The family and friends of a 15-year-old Crystal Lake South student who died by suicide mourned his death Tuesday during a vigil near the school as they denounced bullying.
Maxwell Bennett’s parents – Rosaura and Elijah Bennett – gathered at Dartmoor Drive and McHenry Avenue, across the street from the high school, and held up signs covered with pictures of their son, goodbye notes and signatures from his friends. He died Saturday.
With tears welled in his eyes, Max’s dad told the story of his son’s final days to students who spent their lunch period at the corner.
“I keep asking myself what more could I have done,” Elijah Bennett said.
One of the signs read, “Bullies at this school took the life of my baby Maxwell.”
The family said other students older and bigger than Max bullied him.
After Max died, Elijah Bennett said school officials declined to let him share his son’s story to help prevent future suicides.
“I just wanted to share my feelings with the kids so it doesn’t happen to another kid,” Elijah Bennett said.
The Bennetts put out word that their house would be open for anyone who wanted to hear Max’s story. More than 100 kids showed up.
“You should have seen them. They all lined up, one by one, to give their condolences, and none of them – none of them – had a good story about the school,’” he said.
The Northwest Herald reached out to Community High School District 155 and asked whether officials were aware of any bullying.
“We can’t comment on this student case specifically,” District 155 Superintendent Steve Olson said in a statement. “We are in a difficult position because we can’t comment legally without violating state and federal law. We have board policy in place for the prevention of and response to bullying, intimidation and harassment, and we are required to follow that policy. We take all reports of bullying seriously, investigate claims and take the necessary action.”
Principal Josh Nobilio said, “It has been a difficult week for our students and staff, as we are devastated by the sudden passing of one of our students, and we are continuing to provide supports for our students and staff.”
When a group of students on their lunch break walked up to Max’s dad and offered their condolences, the crying man gave them a mission.
“Go back to the school and don’t let it go,” he said. “Let your deans know that they should follow up on you kids when you have something going on, so this doesn’t happen.”
At school the day before he died, Max told friends he was moving. He gave away his school supplies and his online video game account information.
“That was his way of saying goodbye, and so we didn’t expect anything,” 15-year-old Rebecca Guihan said.
“He said, ‘I’m moving and not coming back ever again,’” 15-year-old Adrian Zawadzki said. “He told us at the end of the day.”
Max’s friends described him as “always smiling” and a “funny kid” known as the endearing “antagonist,” looking to stir up laughs and raise spirits.
Elijah Bennett Jr. was at work when he got the call about his little brother.
“I had my suspicions something was going on,” he said.
The 23-year-old understood why he didn’t know intimate details of Max’s life. They were a lot alike, “strong and quiet” types, keeping their feelings buried inside.
Max had a nickname for this big brother: “One day he started calling me ‘boof.’ Me, him and my girlfriend – we were the Boof Gang.”
He smiled at the memory.
“Boof Gang for life,” he said, laughing.
Anyone feeling depressed is encouraged to call the McHenry County Crisis Line at 800-892-8900.