MIDDLEBURG — Snyder County District Attorney Michael Piecuch will meet Friday with officials at Midd-West High School to discuss alleged bullying at the school that may be behind a freshman's suicide last week.
"I want to have a conversation with (school officials) about what they're doing, what I can be doing to support them, the kids and the school," Piecuch said Tuesday.
Brandon Bitner, 14, ran in front of a tractor-trailer at 3 a.m. Friday on Routes 11-15 near Liverpool, killing himself, according to state police at Newport. In his suicide note, Bitner wrote that he was bullied for five years and "it's time for it to end," and that Midd-West might learn a lesson from his actions.
School officials have said they were unaware of Brandon being bullied and that he did not report any such incidents.
Piecuch said he doesn't have all the facts of what, if anything, was happening at Midd-West and doesn't know whether there is a bullying problem at the school.
"Certainly, Brandon thought so," he said, "but we don't have all the facts."
But the Rev. Julia Beall, pastor of First United Church of Christ in Middleburg, said Tuesday her youngest daughter told Beall she'd seen Brandon being bullied.
"My youngest daughter witnessed an act of bullying against him," Beall said. "He was thrown into a wall. It happened in a hallway where there were a lot of witnesses."
Beall said her daughter told her about this incident last week "before everything happened. There were a few things that happened last week with a couple different people, and she came home and mentioned it," Beall said.
Beall said her daughter did not talk about an alleged incident Nov. 3 of bullying against Brandon that involved the school mascot. In his suicide note, Brandon cited this incident, said to have taken place in front of a large group of people, as "the straw that broke the camel's back.
Piecuch said he will meet officials about the case, but "The bigger picture will be trying to support the school and its efforts for correction."
His office's mission is about more than prosecuting people in court, Piecuch said.
"It's also about fostering prevention," he said. "I want to talk to them about bullying prevention, suicide prevention, get a feel for what they've been doing."
Midd-West School District Superintendent Wesley Knapp and Midd-West High School staff are trying to identify any issues that arose, Piecuch said.
Asked whether anyone could face legal charges, Piecuch said he does not want to talk hypotheticals.
"I hesitate to make this about Brandon," he said. "Generally speaking, a lot of the conduct that constitutes bullying can constitute harassment," Piecuch said. "But we don't know enough about (this case) and we really can't make any assumptions" to talk about possible harassment charges.
Bullying is a larger concern, Piecuch said, "and what some kids don't realize is when they bully, that can constitute harassment -- or other charges."
Midd-West High School had an anti-bullying assembly Nov. 1, but it wasn't a response to any incident, Knapp said.
State House Bill 1067, passed in December 2008, requires Pennsylvania schools to have an anti-bullying policy in their codes of student conduct and to make students aware of it yearly. Piecuch said he is unaware if there are sanctions against schools found in violation of this.
"There are plenty of mandates from Harrisburg," he said. "But non-compliance with a state mandate doesn't always equal sanctions."
For now, Piecuch said, "the main thing is to find out if there are other Brandons at our schools, and see how we can support them. We need to get message out that there are other options" to suicide. "There are other ways to stop the pain."
What shouldn't happen, Piecuch said, is to wait for the situation and react to it.
"That's the perception, that things are only being done in reaction to Brandon's tragedy," he said. "I view this as a broader opportunity to focus on prevention."