Last week, Maya Rodriguez discovered something no mother should find.
While checking on her kids before bed, the mother of six went to her son’s room.
“The door was locked. It’s never locked,” she said. “I opened the door immediately and I saw Junior [Julio] hanging up in the closet.”
Julio, who went by “Junior” at home, was a sixth-grader at Stockard Middle School. His family said they believe the 11-year-old was being bullied at school and being pressured to sell drugs.
Maya encouraged her son to speak with school counselors about the bullying, she said. But she had no idea how bad things were until it was too late.
“I lost my baby,” she said, inconsolably. “Seeing him hanging on a rope just kills me.”
She said in the days leading up to his death, Julio’s behavior changed drastically.
“He was a very, very, good kid. He always had that beautiful smile,” she said. “Prior to his death, he was hitting the table, hitting the wall, walking back and forth. He had moments where he was very aggressive.”
Photos of a smiling Julio decorate the living room wall. They’re a painful reminder of the boy they once knew.
“He was a delightful boy and always had on a smile,” said Monserrat Rodriguez, Julio’s older sister, who is a grade above him. “And if not a smile he was always helping people out somehow.”
The two were incredibly close, she said. They walked to school each day, and did their homework together. The 13-year-old said she is still trying to understand how she didn’t know Julio was hurting.
“I didn’t know he was being bullied until after it happened,” she said, adding that she misses him terribly. “It really hurts.”
Although she said bullying at the school is widespread, the seventh-grader did not think Julio had been a target. When it comes to middle school students, according to the CDC, 24 percent are cyberbullied. Forty-five percent are bullied on school property, like the family said Julio was.
“At Stockard, the bullying that happens is mental bullying, like they tell you you’re ugly, they’d put you down mentally. Physically would be the fighting,” she said. “I think they got in his head because I do know my brother is a sensitive kid.”
Due to spring break, Dallas ISD did not respond to our request for comment on Friday. Officially, the district policy prohibits bullying, as well as any retaliation toward anyone who reports it.
Julio’s mom said she does not want her son’s death to be in vain. The family started a GoFundMe page to purchase a headstone for Julio, and to help other victims of bullying.
By sharing Julio’s story, Maya hopes to shed light on the extreme dangers of bullying.
“Pay attention to bullying, a bully has taken my son to death,” she said. “I’m in pain, my family’s in pain and the community is in pain.”