BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - “I was there when she was born, to the day they took her off the machine, and that’s very hard to watch your child flatline…and ain’t nothing you can do".
James Whitsett’s 9-year-old daughter, Maddie, died in November 2018. James said he received a phone call from Maddie’s mother saying she attempted suicide. Three days later she died from her injuries.
“The only thing I knew was to be there and pray and hold her and that's what I did,” James says, fighting through tears.
Maddie's family has said they believe ADHD medicine, she was recently prescribed and bullying she endured at her Birmingham school were both factors. After her death school leaders sent their condolences to the family, but said they were not aware of the bullying.
Nearly a month later in December, a west Alabama family is experiencing the same kind of grief.
9-year-old McKenzie Adams of Linden, did the unthinkable, dying by suicide. Her family urging investigators to reopen the case, saying the child experienced relentless bullying at school.
In October 2017, Jamari Terrell Williams, a 10-year-old boy in Montgomery killed himself after he was bullied. State lawmakers amended the old harassment law on the books and passed the Jamari Terrell Williams Student Bullying Prevention Act in May 2018.
The CDC reported from 1999 through 2015, 1,309 children, ages 5 to 12, took their own lives in the United States. That averages out to one child under the age 13 committing suicide nearly every five days, over those 17 years.
The frequency was higher from 2013 to 2015, once every 3.4 days. Why are those numbers rising now?
"This act of bullying can be one of the factors that might contribute to why someone would take their own lives, but of middle school and high school kids almost 20% say that they have been bullied at some time and not all taken their lives. We know that causation is not necessarily there."
Related: Stop the Bullying
Dr. Marissa Grayson with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in Alabama, says based on research from the CDC and AFCP, there have to be other underlying factors. But there are others in the trenches of bully prevention who say there is a direct causation when a child that young, who is bullied, sees no other option, but taking their own life. Still, the experts looking it this phenomenon of children as young as 8 and 9 taking their own lives agree it needs more examination and study.
James Whitsett describes his daughter as bubbly, happy and funny. He showed us a trove of pictures and videos on his phone, one of them showing Maddie dancing. "She was like a firecracker and I miss my baby. I miss her. "
Whittsett thinks about the hopes and dreams for his little girl that will never be realized. “When she was with me, I’d tell her I was about to go to work and she say, daddy, when I get big, you can stay home, and I'll go to work.”
He doesn’t blame anybody but wonders what else he could have done and what signs he missed. Around his home there are other pictures of Maddie. One in particular shows her birth and the day she died. "Everyday. I can't pass it without looking at it. I can't go past this picture or any picture of her without looking at it."
She would have turned ten years old this February.
Maddie's mom, Eugenia Williams, wanted to talk to us, but it was just too painful right now. Maddie's family, including her stepfather, are broken over her death.