Two years ago, Maurine Molak was an accountant with a fear of public speaking. Her life changed when her youngest son, David, died by suicide. Now, she travels the state sharing his story, which was the basis of new statewide legislation called David’s Law.
Molak will speak Monday at the 13th Annual Teen Suicide Prevention Symposium at Education Service Center Region 12 in Waco, 2101 W. Loop 340, in an effort to raise awareness of cyberbullying and teen suicide. In an interview this week, Molak recalled how David was the target of cyberbullying from his classmates in San Antonio.
In the months before his death, the family sensed his pain but no one seemed to be able to stop his classmates’ behavior.
“He was depressed, and anxious, and moody, slept a lot, his eating habits changed, he stopped doing the things like basketball that he had always played,” she said.
“The whole thing, when I look back on it, it was just a tornado,” Molak said. Everything was moving so fast and we couldn’t move fast enough. We were moving in slow motion just trying to keep up with what was happening to him. Then, the day before he was supposed to go back to his new school he (died of) suicide.”
Molak recalled her son’s plea for help.
“One night he couldn’t stand it anymore and he came down into our bedroom and showed us an Instagram post that had been started and they were making physical threats,” she said. “They were saying things like, ‘Put him in a body bag’, ‘Put him six feet under’ ... They were making fun of his personal appearance. They were calling him a ‘Caesar’ from Planet of the Apes, and they were calling him a ‘monkey-looking human.’ Telling him he had no friends. It was just insult after insult. There were so many kids involved.”
A concerned Molak took photos of the social media posts about her son and presented them to the school. At the time, school officials said there was nothing they could do.
“Although the school felt it was serious in nature, because it happened outside of school hours they basically felt like their hands were tied,” she said.
Molak said the school helped her move David to another public school while she worked to get him into a private school. She said she contacted doctors, hospitalized him, and did everything she could do to keep him safe but the threats from former classmates kept coming.
“The cyberbullying continued and followed him,” she said. “That’s what makes cyberbullying so damaging. It can happen 24/7 in the privacy of your own bedroom, even though he didn’t have social media. We had taken all his social media accounts down, but he knew it was happening because kids were taking screenshots of it and sending it to him via regular text.”
In the months following David’s death on Jan. 4, 2016, Molak said had a hard time getting out of bed. But by June, she said, she was ready to get up and fight. It was then that the Molak family teamed up with Sen. Jose Menendez of San Antonio to formulate legislation to protect Texas children from ending up in David’s situation.
“The idea behind it was that we gave educators and schools the tools they needed through the education codes, we gave parents the tools that they needed through the civil side using injunctive relief and then we gave (district attorneys) and law enforcement the tools they needed through updating the harassment code to include the modern ways kids are cyberbullying others,” she said. “It was one of those things where we had to change the law to keep up with technology.”
One year ago this week, David’s law, Senate Bill 179, was signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott.
“It was dicey there,” she said. “It was very hard work. It was not an easy bill to pass. There was a lot of compromise, but in the end we ended up with a good bill that we feel is already making a huge impact in protecting Texas children.”
In the twelve months since the law’s passage, Molak said she’s heard numerous success stories.
“Parents have reached out and said that David’s Law saved their child’s life,” she said.
Monday, Molak will join Laura Gold, a licensed clinical social worker, and Curtis Clay, associate director of the Texas School Safety Center and former Dallas Cowboys football player at Region 12 to speak with educators, mental health providers and community members to talk about the “preventable epidemic” plaguing American youth.
The event comes on the heels of prominent celebrity suicide deaths and local losses as well.
“Our ESC Crisis Response team worked two teen suicides just last weekend in our region,” said Jenipher Janek, ESC Region 12 counseling specialist. “Even when school is out, our schools still call on us because the communities are looking to the schools for how to help and support their kids.”
The Region 12 symposium is offered in conjunction with Cedar Crest Residential Treatment Center and Methodist Children’s Home. More than 101 participants from schools and other entities are registered. Additional seats are available. The symposium is $90 to attend and includes a light breakfast and lunch. Registration is available at Esc12.net.