Mother shares story of daughter’s death to raise awareness of bullying dangers
As social media companies come under fire about the potentially negative effects for teenagers, there are some parents who are dealing with the dangers of bullying.
Bullying has been going on for decades at high schools across the country. Social media has become one of the newest weapons. Bullying at one school in South Brunswick even escalated into violence and death.
Many people may not have known it, but 17-year-old Emily Murrillo was suffering. About nine months ago she drove her car into the D&R Canal. One of her final acts was a text to her mom that read, “I love you.”
“It’s devastating. Your entire life is shattered,” says Murrillo’s mother, Erin Popolo.
Popolo says that her daughter was mercilessly bullied in person and over Snapchat. Bullies even Zoom-bombed her funeral.
Murillo was bipolar and a special-education student who battled dyslexia and ADHD. Popolo says that all those things played a role in her daughter’s death. But the bullying was too much.
Around the time Murillo died by suicide, South Brunswick started planning for students to return to the classroom.
“Her answer to me was, ‘I will never go back to that school,’” Popolo says.
She says that the school failed her daughter. And she is not alone.
“They just don’t do enough. I’m tired of hearing them say, ‘Let the school handle it,’” says Louise Gebbia.
Gebbia says an older student assaulted her daughter twice in the last several months. Last week, a fight was caught on camera. News 12 New Jersey has seen the video but is choosing not to show it. Gebbia says she is worried about payback.
“What I hear is 'Your daughter shouldn’t have been here,' or 'Your daughter shouldn’t have been there.' It’s always the victim that is being the target,” she says.
Popolo is working with the South Brunswick school to share her daughter’s story. It has also inspired her to run for the South Brunswick Board of Education in the hope to bridge the gap between what happens at home and at school.
"There needs to be a little bit more of a connection between what the school can do and what the parent can do because, listen, to be honest with you, these kids spend more time in the schools than they do with the parents at home,” Popolo says.
News 12 reached out to South Brunswick School Superintendent Scott Feder for a statement but did not hear back.
Experts say that there is no easy fix to combat bullying, but they say that everyone on a campus needs to foster a culture of respect.