KASSON, Minn. - Teen suicide is often a taboo topic, but it is out in the open in the form of purple ribbons affixed to trees and sign posts all over the adjoining communities Kasson and Mantorville.
On Friday 1,500 people attended the funeral of Rachel Ehmke, a Kasson-Mantorville 7th grader who took her own life after being bullied.
Rachel's parents became aware of the bullying last fall when their daughter's gym locker and textbooks were defaced with chewing gum and vicious words.
Her father, Rick Ehmke, says at roughly the same time, Rachel and a friend were cornered in the school locker room by a "clique" of girls and then threatened.
"She tried to deal with it. We thought she was dealing with it and the school thought she was dealing with it," said Rachel's father. The family now must face different facts: "She locked into this stuff and couldn't let it go," said her father.
Rick Ehmke believes his daughter made an easy target for bullying, because her loving nature made it difficult for her to fight back.
The day before Rachel's death, the school notified her parents of another incident.
Chris Flannery, the parent of two Kasson-Mantorville middle school students, says his 8th grade daughter was among several students who received an anonymous text.
"It was pretty explicit. Something to the effect of that Rachel was a slut and to get her to leave the Kasson-Mantorville School, forward this to everyone you know."
Two days later Rachel hanged herself.
Dodge County Sheriff Jim Jensen confirmed that his department is conducting a criminal investigation with the Kasson Police Department. Jensen says Minnesota lacks a bullying statute that applies to Rachel's case, but adds prosecutors have other options, including harassment, if charges are filed. "Terroristic threats might fall in there depending on what type of bullying is going on," said Jensen.
Rick Ehmke says he's not interested in seeing the girls who bullied his daughter charged criminally. We're not saying they're bad kids, they just made some really bad choices."
He said the girls involved "will carry this with them their entire lives. If they knew the consequences I'm sure they wouldn't have done that."
Rachel's father said he recently learned his daughter was eating her lunches in the girl's locker room on certain days to avoid running into her tormenters in the school cafeteria.
He says text messaging and social media have made an already bad problem worse. "Now the bully follows you home."
Rick Ehmke said he spoke with his daughter the evening before she killed herself and she begged him not make a big deal of the latest incident, fearing it would make matters worse for her at school. They talked about finding Rachel a different school. She told her dad, "she wasn't going back on Monday."
Rachel's parents found a note after her death. According to her father, the note read, "I'm fine = I wish I could tell you how I really feel."
Rick Ehmke says he doesn't blame the school, but wishes there had been greater consequences for the bullies last fall. He says he was stunned to learn six weeks after Rachel's locker was defaced that those terrible words had still not been cleaned up. He said that changed only after he sent an email to the middle school principal.
"Words hurt. Word can kill," said Mary Ehmke, Rachel's mom, wiping away tears. "And it did," added her father. "I'd give anything to have her back, I really would."
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