Kansas Dad Says Bullying Led To Autistic Son's Suicide
INDEPENDENCE, Kansas - A Kansas community is grieving the loss of a 16-year-old autistic boy. Maxwell Webb took his own life this week.
He didn't leave a note, but his parents said the suicide was fueled by bullying. His father, Zach, said the mistreatment wasn't addressed by the school's administration and was the major factor out of several that led to Maxwell's death.
Maxwell made an impression on his hometown of Independence, Kansas.
"You could spot him a mile away," said Zach Webb, Maxwell's dad.
"He was a super kid, he was loved all over this town," said former Independence school custodian, Perry Brayman.
"As a small town and the way his personality was, everybody knew Max," Webb said.
Of course, his dad knew Maxwell best.
"Max was 16 years old. Since he was young, we knew he was high-functioning autistic," said Webb.
His dad said Maxwell was brilliant. He loved science, technology, astrology animals, plants and people.
"All things living that needed any help, that's just the way Max was," Webb said.
Maxwell grew award-winning pumpkins, so this was his favorite time of year. Each fall, you could find Maxwell selling seeds during his hometown's biggest festival, Neewollah.
Though, last year he did something a little different. He wore a T-shirt that simply said "life," and passed out lemons to the crowd.
"I'll never forget that about Maxwell. He has dealt with lemons all his life, but boy made lemonade all his life, too," said Brayman.
Maxwell's dad said say his son, like a lot of boys his age, was becoming interested in girls.
"His academic skills were amazing, but his social skills were just different than everybody else. His brain just worked different in that way," said Webb.
"Maybe his social skills didn't allow him to be friends with pretty girls."
Webb said Maxwell spent his sophomore year being bullied.
"I know he probably got a little annoying, but he got mistreated a little bit, and it really grated on him, it weighed heavily on him," Webb said.
"In fact, I finally told Max to write out a report and give it to who he needed to, and it was thrown away in front of him and he was told that nobody was complaining but him."
Independence School Superintendent Chuck Schmidt said the school investigated the claims, but they were never proven.
"I'm trying to respect the family and I'm not going to try to counter anything anybody says right now. All I can say is we take bullying seriously, we deal with it, we investigate it," Schmidt said.
"We do that in every case and sometimes people don't like the results."
Webb said Maxwell felt betrayed by the school leaders he thought he could trust, which led to a downward spiral.
Maxwell actually left the school district last February. His dad said Maxwell started having autistic meltdowns, so he was sent to the Heartland Behavioral Institute, where Webb said Maxwell was diagnosed with "mental abuse by bullying," and he hadn't been back to Independence High School since.
Instead, Maxwell worked at getting his GED from home and started taking classes at a junior college, making all "As."
His dad said, even though things were looking up for Maxwell, due to his autism, he lacked the defenses that allowed him to move past the bullying.
"It was something he spoke about nearly every day, one way or the other. I mean, even if really there wasn't an incident that happened to him for weeks, he would still talk about every day, even though it may have been last year," said Webb.
So in August, Webb went to the school board to address the bullying policies, but said he was dismissed less than half way through his speech.
"What's sad is, I told them in that speech that this outcome will happen to somebody, I just didn't know it was going to be me," Webb said.
Maxwell was found hanging in his family's garage Sunday. He died at a hospital the next day.
Webb said he thinks the bullying is what ultimately led to his son's death. He said he doesn't blame the bullies, but said the adults in the school district let his son down.
The superintendent said there's no way to know why Maxwell took his own life.
"I think we're talking about the loss of a young man that everybody's grieving right now, and I don't know that it has a connection to bullying, so I'm not making that connection, we don't know that, nobody knows that," Schmidt said.
Still, Webb said he's convinced the bullying is connected to his son's suicide, but said he doesn't want Maxwell's final memory to defined by it.
"There was a lot more to Max than bullying, there were a lot of different parts to him, so I hate to just see him being remembered as a victim of bullying," Webb said.
Instead, Webb wishes his son to be remembered as that boy from Independence, Kansas, who tried his hardest to turn life's lemons into lemonade.
"I'd rather see autism advocacy and acceptance to all those who have differences," said Webb.
Funeral services for Maxwell will be held at 2 p.m. on Saturday, October 5, 2013, at the First United Methodist Church in Independence, Kansas.
On Saturday before Maxwell's service, Zachary Webb sent the following message to News On 6:
"Some mistreatment that was refused to be addressed by the school's administration was the major factor out of several that led to this incident. BYKOTA (Be ye kind one to another)"
Maxwell's mother, Dee Webb, posted this message to her Facebook page in the days following her son's death:
"People you need to realize that Maxwell Thomas Webb struggled with his 'inner self' for many years. Autism made dealing with normal everyday ups and downs difficult. Yes, my son had a brilliant mind looking through his computer layouts and journal it's clear we have lost someone who could have saved us all, but couldn't save himself from himself."