SOUTHAVEN, Miss. — A Desoto County community is mourning the loss of 12-year-old Andrew Leach.
His parents say he killed himself after harmful bullying at Southaven Middle School.
"He was a very loving young boy. He had a contagious smile," Leach's mother, Cheryl Hudson, said. "He was outdoorsy. He loved to go camping. If you were down, he'd try to help you up."
By all accounts Andy Leach was special.
But his mom said she missed that her son needed help of his own.
"I guess I was just oblivious to it. He just always seemed happy," Hudson said.
Behind the smile, his father Matt Leach said Andy was questioning himself.
“He was struggling a lot internally with sexual orientation,” he said. “He finally came out with the information at school that he thought he may be bisexual. I think that really amped up the bullying.”
And then, the unthinkable happened after school Tuesday, March 6.
“We found notes that told us of his plan," Leach said.
His older brother was the only other person home.
They found him dead from suicide in the outdoor garage.
Since then, they said they’d learned more about what the 12 year old was dealing with at school.
It helped explain a lot, but offered little relief.
"Kids were telling him, 'We're gonna put hands on you. You're not going to make it out of this bathroom.' Things of that nature," his vfather said.
"I want them to know what they've done and how it affects other people," Hudson said.
They don’t think their son knew about the national suicide hotline (call 1-800-273-8255) or other local resources.
They hoped that would change for other kids and parents.
"If you think there's any chance of your child suffering from depression, their grades are drastically changing, their eating habits or sleeping habits changed, then get in their business. Talk to them," Leach said.
Andy's parents hoped his bright smile lived on forever as a lasting light that could shine on someone else.
His parents said DeSoto County Schools have a zero tolerance policy for bullying, but they don't think it's being enforced.
In a statement, DeSoto County Schools did not say whether the district was aware of Leach's bullying, but encouraged students to contact them with reports.
"All bullying reports are treated with the utmost importance. Students and parents are encouraged to contact school officials anytime there are bullying concerns, and they can use a link on the DeSoto County Schools website if they would prefer to report bullying incidents anonymously. All claims are investigated thoroughly, and school counselors are trained to help students and intervene when they are aware of a situation," the district wrote.
"Our hearts go out to this young student's friends and family."