Not Afraid steps back from campaigning
Thu, 10/23/2014 - 1:35pm admin
Bullying may have contributed to daughter’s death
By Andrew Turck
I’m going to take a quiet approach to life for the time being.” - Justice of the Peace Leroy Not Afraid
Leroy Not Afraid, following a family tragedy, has decided to turn his political campaign for Big Horn County Justice of the Peace over to the Friends of Leroy Not Afraid committee. His 11-year-old daughter died at St. Vincent Healthcare on Oct. 6, three days after attempting to hang herself. He said in an Oct. 16 press conference that the decision to step back would allow him more time to care for his family.
He will no longer be making public appearances or going door-to-door for his campaign.
Following the conference, he gave the campaign materials to his aunt, Paulette Not Afraid, who serves as the committee president.
Leroy is seeking a third term as justice of the peace, his 14th race for public office since 1996. He is running against challenger Veronica Mendoza.
“I work for the people, and I believe it is their right to know where I’m at and where I’m coming from,” Leroy said, “because after this day, I’m going to take a quiet approach to life for the time being.
“I love campaigning, I love meeting new people, I love to hear issues affecting the residents of Big Horn County…but in observance of Crow custom and tradition, it’s only right for me to step back.”
According to the obituary for his sixth-grade daughter, Zoey Not Afraid, she was a “sweet, silly, fun-loving girl” with many friends and a nurturing instinct for those younger than she. It states she enjoyed everything from water activities to “target shooting at zombies” to selfies (“her dad calls her the ‘Selfie Queen of the Indian Nations,’” the obit states).
“Zoey had an entrepreneurial spirit. She had her very own debit card and was really proud of it,” the obit stated. “She loved the Crow Fair. She loved her many friends. She loved Jesus, God [and] her Bible. She was really thankful for a savior who forgives.”
Leroy said, prior to his daughter’s death, there were unconfirmed reports of bullying and violence at Riverside Elementary School in Billings, where Zoey attended.
“While my daughter was in the hospital, several of her classmates approached our family with concerns of bullying at the school district,” he said, “they themselves living in fear, going to school in fear.”
When contacted, Riverside Principal Shaun Harrington said questions on the incident were to be referred to Billings School Superintendent Terry Bouck, who was unavailable for comment at press time.
Leroy said though he doesn’t know whether the allegations are true, he hopes there is an investigation into the matter. His maternal grandmother, he said, has taken down the names of the classmates who approached the Not Afraid family, along with those of some of the alleged bullies.
He said thus far the school has been responsive to communication with him and his family. He believes the Billings School District will take action to avoid compromising the safety of its students.
He’s also been contacted about the issue by a movie producer from California working on a film dealing with bullying, motivational speaker Jerrickson Hosteen from Arizona and various Montana legislators.
“I’ve given my word and I’ve given my family’s word that I will find out the truth,” Leroy said. “I will find out, for the benefit of other children and their safety.”
According to the Billings Public Schools website, the first step to stop bullying is to contact school personnel for prevention and support. An incident report is available online.
“Only as a community can we identify and support those being bullied, redirect behavior, and change the attitudes of those who tolerate bullying,” the website states.
Leroy has since transferred Zoey’s twin sister out of Riverside, due to concerns raised from the alleged bullying.
“If the allegations hold true, my hope and my prayer for the children of Montana,” Leroy said, “is that this never happens to anyone else’s child.”
Harrington said he planned to meet with Leroy on Thursday, Oct. 23 to answer his questions.
Principal Harrington wrote a letter addressing Zoey’s death, which stated trained counselors were available for students and parents would also want to talk to their children on the incidents. According to the letter, students might react to her death by becoming agitated or angry, asking a lot of questions, trying extra hard to be good, or using alcohol or drugs.
It stated that parents should tell their children the truth of what happened, allow them to share their feelings, encourage them to express themselves and watch them closely.
“As a school, our focus is on the living,” the letter stated. “As adults, by role modeling, we can help facilitate the possible feelings of our children concerning this death.”
The letter also speculated on Zoey’s death, something Leroy believed to be a breach of student confidentiality.
“Circumstances surrounding her death are not completely clear and we may never know exactly what happened,” the letter stated. “It is believed that it was an accident and that Zoey did not really want to die.”
Though the letter was distributed to parents of students throughout Riverside and media sources, Leroy said neither he nor Zoey’s birth mother, Jacquelina Big Hair, received a copy. When the principal of Zoey’s sister’s new school attempted to obtain the letter, Riverside didn’t give them one, citing confidential matters.
“I was totally surprised by the letter that was submitted to parents; I was totally in shock,” Leroy said. “At this point, I don’t know how to address it.”
Following her death, Leroy and Big Hair made the decision to donate Zoey’s organs to those in need. Her heart was donated to a 7-year-old, her liver to a 1-year-old, her kidneys to a 4-year-old and an adult, and her corneas to two separate people.
Leroy said it was encouraging for him and his family to see that Zoey’s “spirit lives on” through these donations. He said his daughter donating her organs has inspired him to become an organ donor, and he encouraged other people throughout Montana to sign up and become organ donors as well.
“We are honored in the celebration of our daughter’s life, in the celebration of carrying on her spirit of kindness and willingness to help others,” Leroy said. “Zoey became a hero in donating her organs.”
He said one reason he agreed to donate Zoey’s organs was he wanted to improve the lives of others, despite his own family’s loss.
“My hope and my prayer,” he said emotionally, “is that she would help someone run across a parking lot.”