Grieving Toronto mother questions whether bullying led to son’s death ruled suicide

Click to play video: 'Grieving mother claims son’s tragic death was result of bullying'
Grieving mother claims son’s tragic death was result of bullying
WATCH: A Toronto mother is searching for answers after the tragic death of her young son she says was the result of bullying. Caryn Lieberman reports – Oct 23, 2019

Warning: This story contains details some readers may find distressing.

In the living room of her one-bedroom apartment in midtown Toronto, Durba Mukherjee sits alone, looking at pictures of happier times spent over the last year with her son.

It was their first year in Canada, and her son’s first time seeing snow.

“He learned skating so well because his home room teacher taught him skating,” she recalled, smiling.

It was a smile that quickly disappeared, as she remembered he would never experience another winter.

Arka Chakraborty died on June 21. He was 12 years old.

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The coroner’s report ruled the boy died by suicide.

“The decedent was a 12-year-old male who was found in the shrubs at the base of an apartment building in the midtown area of Toronto,” wrote the Coroner. “He went to the nearby building where he apparently jumped from the rooftop deck.”

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The report left Mukherjee with questions.

“I wrote to [the] school board, I wrote to [the] ombudsman, I wrote to different politicians,” she said. “I wrote to [the] Toronto police chief, whoever I could, I looked for answers — how did my boy die?”

In her bedroom, there’s a stack of books given to her son by his teacher, she explained.

Mukherjee said Arka talked about becoming a professor because he liked his own teachers so much.

“I thought Canada is very liberal, very inclusive, very open so I wanted to give him a chance,” she said about her decision to move here from India in March 2018.

In the beginning, she said he was thriving.

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Ontario education minister responds to boy’s tragic death, reportedly victim of bullying

Then he began middle school.

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“My son was told about bullies — in middle schools, there will be bullies,” she recalled.

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He found a group of friends who, she said, told him they would protect him.

“He always tried to keep them happy, I saw,” she said. “They asked my son to finish their assignments and my son told me I should do this because they are saving me.”

Durba Mukherjee and her son, Arka Chakraborty, who coroners determine died by suicide in June. Durba Mukherjee

Then, one day, he came home hurt.

“I found my son lying near my apartment holding his abdomen … and breathing in pain, he was crying,” she recalled through tears.

“My boy told me one of these boys had beaten him up; he kicked him in the stomach.”

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A call to police was then followed by a trip to Sunnybrook Hospital.

Mukherjee said she then enrolled her son in Taekwondo and told him to find other friends.

“He told me, ‘I’m scared to go to school’… I did everything, just I did not take my boy out of that school,” she cried, her hands trembling. “I think I should have done that.”

The week of Arka’s death, there was an incident at school involving another student’s gaming console.

Mukherjee said her son told her he was given the console under false pretenses and then returned it after playing on it.

He was under intense pressure at school to confess to taking it, she said, when the rightful owner’s family expressed plans to call police.

“Based on the information we have, he was not pressured to confess to taking a gaming console that belonged to another student,” said Ryan Bird, spokesperson for the Toronto District School Board.

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On a Friday evening, he left the apartment he shared with his mother, and never returned.

A note, however, was left behind.

“First line I read, ‘I have been a disappointment to you,'” said Mukherjee through tears. “I was proud of my boy. He has never been a disappointment to me!”

The letter was handwritten and began with “Dear Mom.”

Mukherjee said she questions its authenticity, noting her son always called her “maa.”

Without a full investigation, she said she struggles with many unanswered questions, including her son’s cause of death.

She has hired a lawyer, and friends have started a GoFundMe campaign called #Justice for Bullied Kids #Justice for Arka to help cover the legal costs.

“The goal is to find answers for her and to have a public airing of what happened because that is now her mission to find justice for her late son,” explained Barry Swadron, founder and principal of Swadron Associates.

“How does a 12-year-old, healthy and bright, die from suicide and there isn’t a great controversy about it?” he asked, adding “there has to be an investigation of what led to that.”

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Swadron said he plans to write a letter to Premier Doug Ford demanding a provincial public inquiry into Arka’s death.

“This is Canada, this is Ontario, this is 2019 and I think that there should be an inquiry into this, and there should be guidance to schools, to police, to parents, to kids on the best paths to follow and this is an opportunity for Ontario to look into this,” he said.

Arka Chakraborty was found in the shrubs at the base of an apartment building in Toronto. Durba Mukherjee

The TDSB, meanwhile, has no plans for a formal review.

“While we are aware of the concerns raised by the student’s mother, based on the information we have, staff at the school did not observe any bullying, nor were they made aware of any pattern of bullying,” said Bird.

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But Mukherjee and her lawyer said they disagree.

“There were times she reported it to school, to the cops, and times her son asked her not to report it because he feared repercussions,” said Swadron.

He said an inquiry into Arka’s death would benefit families across the country.

“Parents everywhere should know how to handle it if their child is bullied or if their child is bullying another child,” he said, adding “it touches every family in Ontario and indeed in Canada.”

Global News contacted Toronto police spokesperson Allison Sparkes, who said, “the police investigation has concluded. If any new information came forward, the police would review and continue investigating.”

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Lawyer Barry Swadron said he finds that “woefully inadequate.”

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“It’s not good enough to say that a 12-year-old commits suicide when the indications are that he should not have done so,” he noted.

Back in her midtown apartment, where posters hang over Arka’s bed, Durba Mukherjee opens a drawer filled with his homework and many drawings.

Again, she smiles, but only briefly.

Somber once again, Mukherjee recalled recently hearing about a teenager in Hamilton who was stabbed to death in an apparent case of extreme bullying.

The tears fill her eyes.

“I wished I did this research before I landed here,” she said. “I wouldn’t have brought my son here, no.”

If you or someone you know is in crisis and needs help, resources are available. In case of an emergency, please call 911 for immediate help.

The Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, Depression Hurts and Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868 all offer ways of getting help if you, or someone you know, may be suffering from mental health issues.

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