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Many times during the course of a day, life seems almost unbearable for Stayce Hazell.
It could be a song she hears, walking by her son’s bedroom or simply gazing out the front window of her Radcliff home and watching a bus driver make a stop. Her son no longer gets off the school bus.
For Hazell, life without 18-year-old Gage has been a two-month journey of overwhelming grief. She misses everything about her son.
On Oct. 22, just 13 days after turning 18, Barron committed suicide, shooting himself in the head at a friend’s home down the street where he had been playing video games.
“I got a call and I started screaming,” said Hazell, tears filling her eyes. “I got in the car and drove there and when I saw him he was on the floor, the gun was beside him and he was bleeding so bad. I tried to stop the bleeding and I couldn’t.”
Life changed forever in an instant.
“He was such a good kid,” Hazell said. “He loved everyone; he never met a stranger.”
She smiled thinking about her son, tears still falling from her reddened eyes. Through her grief and daily tears, there are times to smile when she recalls his passion for people, the military and music.
Hazell believes her son was bullied at North Hardin High School, where he was a senior. She says he told her he was called names about the way he dressed and about lingering effects from a brain injury suffered in a bike wreck when he was 16, and being ridiculed because nerve damage at birth resulted in one arm being shorter than the other.
“Words can hurt any child,” she said.
She said he had emotional outbursts following the bike injury and that he had a long recovery period.
“He would get upset, he would say things,” she said, calling the outbursts reaction to obstacles in daily life.
Hazell said she never reported any issues to the school but said her son told her he had. Hardin County Schools officials say they have no record of Gage or anyone from his family bringing bullying to the attention of anyone at the school.
“I can tell you that he never came into the office and asked to speak to an administrator about any alleged bullying,” HCS spokesman John Wright said in an email. “If he had, there would have been a formal complaint written and an investigation into the allegation would have taken place. That complaint would have been in a file.”
Wright added, “If children feel they are bullied, the child and/or the child’s parents should file a formal complaint with a school administrator. All bullying accusations are taken seriously and investigated.”
Hazell said other events, she believes, also led to her son’s angst. A relationship with a girl ended and he had trouble dealing with challenges he faced from his arm and brain injury, such as not being able to get his driver’s license.
“I didn’t see any signs,” she said. “If I had looked more, maybe I could have seen something.”
She said he had some postings on Facebook that indicated he was struggling with certain aspects of life, especially through music. She said she wasn’t on his Facebook page until after his death.
In the aftermath of his death, Hazell roamed through some of his drawers and found under some clothes a notebook her son called, “The Book of Evidence.”
Inside, she found a note, a list of five or six names of people who he said had called him names. The note, she said, never gave a clear indication of why he decided to take his own life.
“It was a combination of things,” she says.
Gage loved the military and was heavily involved in the NHHS JROTC from his freshman year on. Hazell said his passion for the military came from the military service of his father, who lives in Arizona.
“When we would be out and Gage would see someone in uniform he would go up to them and thank them for serving our country,” she said. “He wanted to be in the military; he would have loved that.”
With his injuries, they both knew that would be impossible.
“He was like a brother to me,” said Sterling Lewis, who graduated from North Hardin last year and now attends the University of Kentucky. “We would hang out all the time and play games online. When I was with him, he always seemed like a happy person.”
Lewis said he became friends with Gage as a sophomore and never saw him bullied. He said Gage would stand up for himself if needed.
Since his death, Hazell has struggled emotionally over losing her only son.
“It has been very difficult and very depressing,” she said. “I just feel like I need to go on for Gage and to try and make a difference and help others if I can. He always wanted to do for others.”
She cautioned parents to talk to their children and know what is going on with them. If they are having issues at school, she said, there should be no hesitation to bring a situation to the attention of a school administrator. HCS officials fully agree with that.
Hazell regrets not taking it upon herself to discuss his issues with a school official.
With teenagers facing tough challenges in life and adding the aspects of social media, Hazell said she often is sent Facebook messages about children being picked on in person and online.
“I want the kids to feel safe and not be afraid to get the help that they need,” she said. “I don’t want another kid lost because of this.”
She said children and teenagers should not be afraid to reach out for help whether at school or home. She said if other children can be helped by sharing her story, that would be a fitting tribute to her son.
“I hope other kids can be helped if they need it,” she said. “That’s important to me.”
Hazell drove Gage to school every day, stopping along the way to purchase drinks or snacks such as beef jerky and sunflower seeds. Around 4 p.m. each school day, her son would get off the bus and walk in the door, giving his mother a hug and telling her he loved her, Hazell said.
“I miss that,” she said.
Months after his death, the bus still stops where Gage would get off, even though there is now no one to exit at that stop, nobody for Hazell to look for.
“The bus still stops,” she said. “It’s the driver honoring and remembering Gage.”
Jeff D’Alessio can be reached at (270) 505-1757 or email@example.com.
Teen suicide warning signs
It is important to take the warning signs of teen suicide seriously and to seek help if you thing that you know a teenager who might be suicidal. Here are some of the things to look for: