In a statement on Monday, Camika Shelby said administrators at Huntsville High School allegedly told her 15-year-old son Nigel, who was bullied for his sexuality, that being gay was a choice. She added that they also failed to let her know that the teenager, then in ninth grade, had difficulty coping with the treatment he received from his peers.
"People at his school knew that he planned to take his own life," she said. "I need to find out who knew and why nobody told me until after he died."
Shelby alleged that, in the hours following her son's death, a school employee told her to check his backpack for a suicide note. The mother reportedly found Nigel's body when she returned home from work on April 18. The night before, she said that he had come into her room and told her that he would do better in school.
"He was just special," she told WAFF. "He was outgoing, he was always full of joy, full of light, he was always singing, always dancing."
Following the high school freshman's death, school officials released a statement mourning Shelby's loss of her only son.
"Our sympathy, thoughts and prayers are with Nigel's family," the statement read. "Parents, please talk to your students about Nigel's death. Know and be aware of changes in your child. Talk to them about what they see, words they speak and actions they can take to make a difference. We must be better."
Condolences aside, Huntsville High did not do enough to ensure the teenager's safety, said Shelby's lawyers Benjamin Crump and Jasmine Rand, both of whom also represent the family of Trayvon Martin, the teenager who was shot dead in Florida by George Zimmerman in 2012.
"As civil rights leaders, we have a duty to ensure all of our children are safe in school and treated with equality, and that educators address and guide children struggling with gender and racial identity issues in a positive and loving way that benefits the growth of the child," they said in a statement. "We will work hard to determine the role his school contributed in his decision to take his own life and to uncovering the truth surrounding the tragic circumstances of Nigel Shelby's death for his mother."
David Johns, the executive director of National Black Justice Coalition, said that his organization, which advocates for black lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people, would provide additional support to Shelby and her lawyers.
"We will work with Nigel's mother and his attorneys to determine changes that can be made within his school, and other schools in the community, to support culturally competent and intercultural awareness through sex education and other inclusion and anti-bullying policies," he said.
In response to criticism from Shelby over the supposed lack of attention that was paid to her son's bullying, Huntsville High countered with its own statement earlier this week, asserting that it did all it could to make sure Nigel felt comfortable on school grounds.
"The administrators and counselors of Huntsville High School had a close relationship with Nigel during his time at the school," Huntsville High said. "They worked with Nigel to ensure that he felt at home at Huntsville High. They were absolutely devastated by Nigel’s passing and tried to do everything in their power to support Ms. Shelby during that difficult time."