Editor’s Note: This letter was written by Kenneth Suttner’s mother, Angela Suttner, in hopes of giving insight to her family’s world after her son’s suicide and the subsequent legal actions that followed regarding the horrific bullying he suffered from. All pictures and content were provided by Ms. Suttner. To read the memorial article about Kenny written by Lindsay Schraad, click here.
My name is Angela Suttner. I am Kenneth Suttner’s mother. My husband, Michael, and I lost our Kenny on December 21, 2016. Kenny was 17 – almost 18 years old. Our family has been forever changed. There are no words to adequately explain the pain that comes with losing a child.
It’s been 2 years and almost 8 months since we last saw our son, heard his laugh, or gotten a big hug. As each day passes, it gets harder and harder. There is nothing in this world that could ever fill the void, heal our hearts, end this nightmare… nothing will give us our son back. As parents, the life that we now exist in is the struggle between grief and trying to bring peace to our family for Kenny’s younger brothers. They deserve peace…
For Kenny, we have been engaged in a legal battle to achieve accountability from the entities (Glasgow School District, along with the manager and the place of employment of Kenny) that allowed such cruelty to happen to our son. I have been continuously spreading awareness and prevention against school and workplace bullying/violence. EVERYONE DESERVES A SAFE LEARNING AND WORK ENVIRONMENT! We have a support page in honor of Kenny that enables us to reach those who may be going through something similar or know of someone having a hard time. We want to help! The Facebook page is We Roar For KennyBug!
We have pushed for Kenny’s Law (SB791). If Kenny’s law were to pass, it would serve as a major deterrent to bullying. To honor our son, we donate to wonderful organizations that help children, families, etc. We once donated to help a mother with the funeral expenses of her young son who took his life. No parent expects to plan their child’s funeral, but to add to the grief the inability to afford the cost is such a horrible place to be in…we know. From knowing what these parents feel like, I help any way I can. To give back helps me so much because I know it’s what Kenny would do. And for Kenny I will continue to try and make a difference – no matter how small.
We are fortunate enough to have an organization (Bianca’s Kids) that recognizes and honors Kenny by honoring a child who works hard to make this world a better place. It made me so happy at the gesture and has meant so much to me. I have flown to Florida to help advocate there with a woman that I met and became friends with (Kathleen Bonczyk), who is the founder and president of End Workplace Violence. It was a tremendous experience and I met so many wonderful people who all want we all want: safety and assurance that our children will be safe at school and work, and not worry about being bullied or killed. Senator Torres was a pleasure to hear speak on the subject.
We also participate in the Out of the Darkness Walk that’s held in Columbia, MO. We hold fundraisers to donate to its cause of Suicide Prevention. To be a part of such an enormous amount of people from all over coming together in unity – no matter size, color, rich, poor – we all share the same grief. It’s a very emotionally humbling experience.
Recently, due to court proceedings and media articles pertaining to our son and family, and receiving some sort of justice and accountability for Kenny, there have been a lot of questions, uninformed opinions and obviously very cruel things being said. I don’t want to spend much time on this subject, but I will say a few things that may help the curious.
1. Going after a franchise with all the corporation’s money at their disposal was very difficult, took a lot of guts and stress, and engulfed our family. For a year we had virtually no peace from the media. Numerous court proceedings and reliving the death of our son over and over again while learning bit by bit how horribly he was treated took its toll on us. We settled. Yes. And we gained accountability and change. Employee handbooks now include bullying.
2. Why was there a plea in the case of Harley Branham? I have no answer that will please anyone who wants to know. What I do know and will say is that justice for Kenny has and will always be about acknowledgement and accountability followed by change.
I was in the courtroom as the plea was read. She pleaded guilty and I listened to the sentence. I wasn’t sure how I would handle the outcome in the days leading up to the July 12th hearing as angry as I was, am, and had been for 2 1/2 years. I had wanted her to suffer so badly for dehumanizing my son so horribly. I had no clue how I would handle my emotions. Once the day arrived and I walked in the court room knowing what I now know, I prepared myself for just about any outcome. I sat in the very back of the courtroom by myself, trembling with so much emotion. I allowed myself to look in Branham’s direction and I must say I was very shocked at what my mind’s first instinct was. I saw a scared young lady who never imagined her life being the way it is – known as a monster, with people wishing her dead on social media (which I do not condone).
At that moment, the mommy in me felt bad for her. Yes, yes, yes…as strange as that is to understand for some of you. In saying that, do I feel like she got what she deserves? Yes and no. I hope she learns a better way to coexist with other human beings, and understands that they are people who deserve kindness, respect, and – above all – compassion. Branham has a chance, if she so desires, to make a difference, speak out against bullying and the horrific consequences of this epidemic and what can and did happen to the one bullied – Kenny – and the one doing the bullying – Branham. I hope she chooses the right path and never in her life treats another human being so deplorably.
Kenny’s compassion, empathy and pure kindness towards anyone, even a stranger, will not allow me to hate. As easy as it would be to hate…I choose compassion.
3. Why did we settle with the school district? This one is a bit touchy for me. I won’t say much other than two words: sovereign immunity. We did what we could with the laws.
The word “settle” leaves me unsettled; I don’t like what it implies, but that’s the word chosen in these situations. In layman’s terms, both parties were able to come to terms without the need of a trial. Was it easy? No! But again – accountability and acknowledgment is what we were seeking and that’s what we got. My understanding is that the district has made great strides at preventing another tragedy and protecting students from being bullied. That is all we wanted: change.
What people don’t seem to understand is that Michael and I went through all of this having already lost. We lost our child. Nothing will bring him back. Nothing. But accountability, acknowledgement, and change means to us that our son didn’t die in vain and children will be heard. Even in death, our son is still helping people – and that helps us. We choose to commend the school for making changes now. I wish with all my heart and soul that it didn’t take us burying our son for people to take the issue of bullying seriously, but it did. We can’t change that, but we can and are trying to move forward the best we can. That means letting go of the betrayal, hurt, and anger we’ve felt by members of the school faculty and instead praying that they keep doing better, that they look at each child individually, and that they never assume a child is okay just because “they are used to it” – because inside they are dying.
4. Lastly, I want to touch on the subject of monetary gain in said settlements. Although it is not necessary for me to explain, I will…so maybe the people who are saying words like “greed” and “getting rich” will think twice about saying such disrespectful words to a grieving family.
I ask each of you to look at your child/brother/sister/grandchild/niece/nephew and ask yourself: what their life is worth?????? Our child’s life is priceless. No amount of money could ever be compared to our son. Plain and simple. I implore each of you to read a little about the law, and you would see in situations like ours that the only way to achieve any kind of acknowledgment and accountability is through monetary means. And let me tell you – nothing in this world is harder than losing a child and then having a lawyer or insurance adjuster put a dollar amount on your child’s life. It is maddening, painful, and created such turmoil in our hearts…but we had to separate ourselves emotionally as much as we could, knowing that for them it wasn’t personal; it was business.
Some may say this is the end. Legally, yes. Thank God. Our family is in desperate need of healing and peace. However, tomorrow is another day and I am going to continue to do what I do: advocate and raise awareness against bullying and violence in our schools and workplace. The tragedies and lives lost continue every day, and for Kenny I will spread kindness and ask as many people as possible to do the same. Compassion and kindness can conquer the cruel!!
I would give my life in a second so Kenny could have his. What good would he have done in his life? We will never know. We honor our Kenny – forever 17 – by hopefully making him proud that we are striving to help others.