No charges to be filed in Willard student's suicide

Cary Ashby • Updated Jun 9, 2017 at 8:53 PM

Prosecutors have determined that nobody will be charged in connection with the death of Willard Middle School student Caleb W. Hershiser.

The 14-year-old boy died April 2 shortly after being taken to Mercy Health-Willard Hospital. The Willard Police Department launched an investigation that lasted two months. 

“I’m not going to comment on that right now,” Shannon Chaffins, who is serving as interim police chief, said Friday.

Police had received a tip that bullying might have played a role in the youth’s death. An investigation report released recently by the Huron County Prosecutor’s Office to the Sandusky Register indicates there was “nothing found during the investigation that would indicate the cause of Caleb’s death was related to any sort of criminal act or provocation such as bullying that would have contributed to Caleb’s death.”

Prosecutor James Joel Sitterly has failed to return multiple messages left by the Reflector.

The report, which states no charges will be filed, covers an investigation that includes summaries of interviews with Hershiser’s parents, friends, other Willard students, current and former teachers, administrators and local residents who knew the boy.

Mark Holden was the police chief during the investigation and declined to comment Friday. He retired June 2 after serving two years in the military and another 23 between the Willard and New London police departments.

“We’ve conducted extensive interviews with anyone who has had contact with him. There is no indication that bullying was involved. … We’ve talked to everyone (who) had contact with him and there was one person in particular mentioned and it doesn’t look like bullying was involved,” Holden told the Reflector earlier. 

The report written by assistant Prosecutor Bambi Couch tells a similar story. According to the Register, Couch said in the report it seems unlikely there were “any recent incidents that would have caused Caleb to believe he was being bullied.” However, the prosecutor noted that the boy reportedly talked about committing suicide and people who heard such possible statements believed he was joking.

Many people interviewed during the investigation described Hershiser as a happy person who went out of his way to talk to people and in recent months didn’t appear to show he was depressed, according to the report.

“It appears from everyone’s perspective that no one foresaw the events of April 2, 2017,” Couch wrote.

What happened afterward

In mid-April, Superintendent Jeff Ritz submitted a letter to the editor to the Reflector in which he addressed bullying, which he referred to “as a growing epidemic, one that affects not only children, but parents, teachers and communities.” 

He couldn’t be reached for comment Friday.

“No longer is bullying confined to a schoolyard where children could previously escape the pressure of bullies and retreat to a safe place called home. With the rise of the Internet and social media comes new ways for students to bully others at at any time in any place. Statistics gathered from sources including StopBullying.gov found 35 percent of kids have been threatened online,” Ritz wrote.

Also, the superintendent said Willard schools and community “have many caring adults who truly are concerned about our students and work together to provide a safe learning environment every day.” He stressed the importance of students and adults “to openly communicate when there is a problem (and) if there is no indication of an issue, it is difficult for the school or community to work toward a solution.”

On May 8, about 40 parents, students and other community members, including Hershiser’s relatives, gathered in the Willard High School auditorium to show their support and share their bullying experiences and displeasure with the district and board. 

Many people wore white and blue T-shirts that said “7-1-02—4-2-17 Caleb Hershiser; Stop bullying.” The residents shared their bullying experiences and the loss of Hershiser.

Willard City Schools, the city of Willard, Willard Ministerial Association and other civic organizations held a forum to better understand bullying issues.

Next school year there are going to be quarterly meetings with parents. The meetings will be from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Sept. 5, Nov. 7, Feb. 6 and April 3 in the high school library. Parents will be invited, Ritz said, so “we can move forward.”

Each case of reported bullying from now on will include a form that will be kept on file in the students’ records. Ritz said that report always will be in that file. Ohio law dictates who can have access to those files.

The members of the Willard board of education will get copies of those reports and the investigations resulting from those reports. Ritz said board members just received an overall report in the past.

“Sometimes a bullied kid lacks the courage to step up and say this is happening,” Ritz told the Willard Times-Junction. “By the time they do get the courage, they are at the point where it’s a problem.”

Hershiser, the son of Robert W. and Anna M. (Cummings) Hershiser, of Willard, was born on July 1, 2002 in Norwalk.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Reflector staff writer Zoe Greszler contributed to this story.

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