Family, friends grieve for colorful Albany teen, try to understand why she took her life
Kaitlyn Boris loved to color her world.
The Albany teen had bright pink hair for a while, then green, then blue. She’d make blue popsicles as treats for her friends. Sometimes, she’d pick from her rainbow of tutus and wear one to school.
But the 15-year-old who loved to draw, who would spontaneously burst into song, who dreamed of one day opening her own restaurant, hid an emotional darkness that on Saturday prompted her to end her life.
Friends who gathered Tuesday to build and decorate a memorial for her at South Albany High School say bullying deepened that darkness.
Kaitlyn, known as “Katie,” had been the target of sneers and whispered comments during her freshman year, they said. Her father, Dennis Boris, said after her death he found notes Katie had written to herself, which he summarized: “I’m ugly. I’m horrible. Everyone laughs at me. ... I look in the mirror and can’t believe what I see.”
“All these feelings need attention,” he said. “You can’t live this way.”
Nobody knows exactly what was going through Katie’s mind late Saturday morning when she shot herself with her older brother’s gun.
The .45 caliber pistol with the screw-on barrel wasn’t loaded, or even put together, according to her father, but it wasn’t hard to figure out how to shoot. What’s harder is understanding why.
The family had had no indication Katie was having problems, Boris said. School had been over for weeks, and Principal Brent Belveal said to his knowledge, she’d never had an issue with anyone: never been in trouble, never lodged a complaint, and saw her counselor just once, to change her schedule.
Close friend Kara Russell, 15, said Katie had mentioned suicide to her just once before, a good year ago. Kara declined to say what prompted the comment, but said it had nothing to do with bullying.
“She told me she was thinking about it, but she promised me she wouldn’t do it, and she never talked about it again,” Kara said.
Based on the notes, her father said, Katie’s self-esteem and self-image appeared to have been at rock-bottom. That’s still a mystery to him.
“We’ve been grabbing at straws: ‘What if, coulda been, maybe it was this, maybe it was that,’” he said. “She was a beautiful artist, a beautiful child.”
The family had moved to Albany from Sheridan two years ago. Katie had been bullied at her previous middle school, once even pushed down the stairs, her father said.
To learn from her friends that she’d also been picked on in Albany makes him seethe with anger and frustration. He would have home-schooled her, he said. He would have done something.
“Why isn’t anyone going to the principal?” Boris said. “Tell somebody. Don’t live with it. ... If they have those feelings, they need to contact somebody.”
The problem of bullying
Kara was joined Tuesday by friends Sarah Mortensen and Breanne Perkins; Breanne’s mother, Cynthia Perkins; and Kara’s mother, Donna Schackmann, decorating a memorial message for Katie with balloons, sparkling bows and bright purple crepe paper.
They can’t understand how anyone as fun-loving, outgoing and spontaneous as Katie could have suffered from self-esteem low enough to prompt suicide. But they know, especially when you’re a teenager, that self-esteem is affected by everyone around you.
Kids do bully, said the three teens, all of whom will be sophomores this year at South Albany High School. They’ve seen the smirks, read the nasty notes, heard the snickers and the mutters of “weird,” or “geek.” Some of them have been targets themselves.
But Cynthia Perkins said complaining doesn’t always bring results. She said she’s talked to counselors about her children being harassed multiple times, and the answer is usually something along the lines of teaching them to deal with it.
“More is put on the side of the kid being picked on to learn to cope with it rather than putting an end to it,” she said. “That’s what they do to prisoners of war. School systems are torture on a daily basis for 17 years.”
Perkins said she believes schools are handicapped by ever-growing populations that don’t allow teachers to be close to their students, and by policies that don’t give teachers the leeway to discipline students who make others their targets.
As the new school year gears up, however, she said, there are ways students, schools and families can make the situation better.
Parents need to be more involved in their children’s personal lives, knowing who their friends are, what they’re saying to their peers and how they feel about themselves. That goes for both the bullies and the bullied, she said.
If that means reading Facebook pages or snooping in diaries, so be it, she said. “You can be their friend later.”
In turn, teens feeling overwhelmed need to talk to someone who can help, even if it’s another teen, so that word can spread and help can be found, said Donna Schackmann, Russell’s mother.
Suicide is a common topic of conversation in high school, Schackmann said. “It’s prevalent. There are at least 50 kids talking about it at the same time. We don’t know which one is the ticking time bomb.”
Efforts at school
Perkins said she believes South Albany’s “Strikeout” events, meant to help unite the student body and draw attention to the problem of bullying, are useless because they’re voluntary.
The day-long focus might prompt an unwitting bully to realize his actions are harmful, she acknowledged. “But when do you start holding accountable the people who do it on purpose?”
It might help to bring in speakers from Linn-Benton Community College, students just a few years older than the teens themselves, who can speak to the fact that life goes on after high school, Perkins said.
Teen years feel like forever, she said. “But there’s another, hopefully 60 years left that you’re not going to get picked on. You’re not going to get tormented. Maybe that will give them something to hang onto.”
Both Superintendent Maria Delapoer and South Albany Principal Brent Belveal say they like the idea of bringing in mentors from LBCC but disagree with Perkins’ assessment of the district’s current efforts.
“If parents have information or concerns I would like to encourage them to call the school,” Delapoer said. “We certainly don’t allow bullying to happen and there are serious consequences for students.”
If Katie Boris was being bullied, no one said anything, Belveal said. She and her friends ate lunch daily in the area he supervised and he often said hello. No one ever brought a problem about her to an administrator’s attention.
“It’s such a tragedy for a young person to get to that place where they feel that (suicide) is their option,” Belveal said. “Sometimes, the quiet students, you just don’t know what’s going on with them.”
Boris’ death coming on the heels of the Aug. 5 accident that killed South student James Grady, 16, will make for a particularly tough start to the school year, Belveal said. He said he strongly encourages the students to speak out if they need help in any way.
“We’re going to be very diligent, keep our eyes open and encourage them if they need help,” he said.