Lynden school officials are investigating allegations of bullying in the wake of the death of a seventh-grade Lynden Middle School student last week.
Vylit Vander Giessen, 13, died Thursday at her home, and her death was confirmed as suicide, said Lynden School District Superintendent Jim Frey, in an email to parents and staff. Lynden Police Chief Jack Foster said Monday that the county medical examiner would make that determination officially, but it appears she did kill herself.
Reports of repeated bullying – both at school and on social media – emerged almost immediately after her death was made public in a school announcement Friday morning and in a letter to school families. Crisis counseling was offered and the school provided internet resources for suicide prevention and mental health issues.
“As the information about this tragic incident is still being collected, the district is not in a position either to confirm or deny that bullying played a role,” Frey wrote in a statement Monday.
Foster said the detective assigned to the investigation is examining social media and looking for statements or evidence of a specific threat, which would be a crime.
“(Bullying is) always a possibility, but there was nothing at the crime scene to indicate that,” Foster said. “It’s certainly a tragic situation. This young life was lost.”
Frey elaborated on the incident in a separate letter sent to parents and school staff:
“Any time a tragedy like this happens it gives us cause to re-evaluate what we do, how we provide training and information and how we work with our kids to practice kindness and empathy and create an environment where every student is valued for who they are and their unique contributions. We will use this incident to review and look back at our current practices and how we (educate) and inform students, staff, and families about depression, bullying, suicide, and other related topics.”
A public Facebook page, Voice for Vylit Community Commitment, quickly filled with condolences, photos and sorrowful memes using violets or the color violet. Lynden residents were encouraged to wear clothing in that shade on Monday.
A relative, Alisa Dehaan, said family members told her that school officials had been made aware of several specific incidents and taunts for some time, both at school and on social media. She remembered Vander Giessen as a vibrant and uplifting girl.
“She had big eyes that were always happy, she loved to be happy and make others smile especially if they were feeling down,” Dehaan said. “She was the first one out of other kids to give a compliment. She loved to give them. She loved her hair and makeup. She loved music and cats. She loved her little brothers.”
Services for Vander Giessen will be 4-5 p.m., March 21, at North County Christ the King, 1835 Liberty St. in Lynden, according to a public post on a family member’s Facebook page.