There has been a global outreach towards young Michael Morones and his family, including letters, crowdfunding, social media pages, and news media coverage. While this remarkable young man spent his early years learning to play the violin, going to after school events with friends, and learning about religion and the bible, it was 11 year old Michael’s love for My Little Ponies that attracted the attention of bullies who would tease him for liking something that seemingly marketed towards young girls.
Michael’s uncle Jimmy initially got him interested in the popular animated television show with the brightly colored ponies and the boy’s gentle spirit immediately took to the show’s theme of friendship and love. Michael’s favorite character was Pinkie Pie, a hyperactive and excited pony who couldn’t sit still and showed a lot of enthusiasm for life. Since Michael has ADHD, he could relate to the excitable pink pony and asked his friends if this would still like him when he wore his Pinkie Pie tee shirt to school. He was so concerned about this that he wrote a survey that he passed out to his friends, asking if they would still be his friend, yes or no.
While Michael hadn’t told his mom much about the bullying at school, she had started to guess that something negative was occurring. One particularly bad day at school had Michael sharing his painful experience with his mother and her suspicions were confirmed. When Tiffany Morones-Suttle offered to get involved, Michael said he could handle it himself and explained that the kids at school told him he was gay for liking My Little Pony. The night that Michael attempted suicide are etched forever for Tiffany Morones-Suttle who remembers every moment.
In retrospect Tiffany realized the warning signs were there and she wished she had done more than offer her help; she wished she had taken charge even though Michael requested to handle it himself. After having gone to bed at around 8 that night, Michael emerged from his room with an urgent request for a pencil sharpener. After his mom told him they didn’t have one, he insisted on bringing scissors into his room. Tiffany remembers her son saying, “I need this tonight. I need to do this tonight.” When there was a loud sound coming from Michael’s room, his mom assumed he had slammed the closet door, further expressing his frustration. When Tiffany entered his room to find him hanging from his bunk bed by the necktie he had worn the previous week for a violin recital, she felt her heart wrench inside her chest. While she yelled to her other son for a scissors to remove the necktie from Michael’s constricted neck, she managed to slip the tie over his head, but the lack of oxygen to the brain had already done some damage.
Michael Morones had an emergency tracheotomy and is being treated for the brain damage he received during his suicide attempt, but doctors are saying that he is suffering from locked-in syndrome, a rare neurological disorder that causes complete paralysis of all muscles except for those that control the eyes.
The outpouring of support from other My Little Pony fans was phenomenal. Male fans of the animated series who identify as Bronies (a combination of the friendly male word “bro” and “ponies”) spoke against bullying and the social constructions of whether something can be just for girls or boys. The media responded to the internet communities that were outraged at Michael’s situation and the story got even bigger. A crowdfunding project at GoFundMe.com gathered over 74,000 dollars towards Michael’s recovery.
The actress that does the voice for Pinkie Pie, Andrea Libman on the animated show recorded a special message for Michael once Tiffany reached out and asked for support. In addition, every cast member from the show recorded a supportive message for Michael to hear, his favorite characters’ voices urging him to recover and comforting him. Tiffany has reported that even in his current state, there are increased signs in his brain shown through an EEG machine when they play the special messages from the My Little Pony characters for Michael.
Although much of the feedback from the public has been positive, some hurtful comments where left on one of the many websites intended to support the family. Shannon Suttle, Michael’s stepdad has expressed that these insensitive comments only further prove that they need to address the issue of bullying. Suttle clarifies that Michael wouldn’t want his bullies to be punished. The power of friendship is the theme of the My Little Pony show that Michael loved so much and the family is perpetuating this message of love and acceptance. They would like to hope that Michael will get the chance to forgive his bullies someday.
Michael’s case is sadly not all that rare in today’s society. The Center for Disease Control has gathered data that shows suicide rates rising dramatically for middle school aged children, having increased over 55% in the past decade alone. Gathered from suicide related emergency room visits, we know that 15,858 of 10-14 year olds attempted suicide in 2001. That same age group totaled 24,583 attempted suicides according to hospital records in 2012. 15-19 year olds are also showing increased rates of attempted suicide having 61,115 cases in 2001 and 82,409 cases in 2012. The statistics are a steady increase every year, showing us that it isn’t an event or one isolated influence that pressuring suicide, but an overall culture that is developing. Anti-bullying programs are being started at schools over the country, but even this may not be the solution to the child suicide epidemic that seems to have sprouted in our culture. Like many schools, Michael’s school has an anti-bullying policy with specific procedures for preventing children from hurting and humiliating other children. These anti-bullying measures were in part a response to an earlier incident with bullying that resulted in a young child hanging himself in the school’s gymnasium. Michael’s mother Tiffany challenges that these policies aren’t helping since there aren’t any tools for success and the system isn’t set up to succeed.
Michael’s mom is taking matters into her own hands and has started a non-profit organization called the Michael Morones Foundation. Not only has this organization garnered respect and support from similar organizations, but celebrities such as Ian McKellen have signed on for a benefit that will further the goals of the organization. With its main focus on love, the Michael Morones Foundation seeks to foster a safe and supportive environment for children rather than fighting directly against bullies, who are generally just insecure children themselves.
Michael Morones has been moved from the children’s hospital where he was being treated and is getting outpatient care at his new home. Thanks to the donations from compassionate strangers who reached out to Michael’s family, Michael will be receiving lifelong medical care at home for one hour every day. While Medicaid covered some of his initial bills, Michael’s family would have been responsible for Michael’s lifelong medical fees. Tiffany hopes to one day have her son back in some capacity even though doctors are not sure how long or whether this is possible.
Meanwhile, the world has reached out to Michael Morones in the form of supportive cards, toys, emails, and videos. Michael’s room is decorated completely with My Little Pony images from all the fans that have so much in common with him. Images and plush Pinkie Pie toys are carefully placed around the room to provide a comforting and loving atmosphere for Michael. The Facebook page for Michael has over 7200 followers. In addition to the other support the family receives, tattoo parlors participate in donating the profits of My Little Pony tattoos to the family which is a particularly interesting expression for some Bronies to show their affection for the animated television show. We can learn from Michael Morones and similar cyberbullying stories that acceptance and love are the first steps to eroding the hateful cycle of bullying.
There aren’t always clear warning signs when a child is planning to commit suicide, but it is important to take note of these common signs in order to recognize them early. It’s crucial to communicate with your child. If they express that they want to kill themselves or wish they were dead, make sure they know that what they’re going through isn’t permanent and death is very permanent. Knowing that they are valued and loved is an important part of the Michael Morones Foundation’s message and should be the end point of every conversation about bullying. If you suspect that your child is hiding weapons or medications they could use to kill themselves, this could be a warning sign as well. Children and teens who are contemplating suicide also exhibit signs of hopelessness, anxiety, insomnia, rage, or acts of revenge. While it can be difficult to interact with a child who is responding in these ways, there are resources to help parents in this situation. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available at 1-800-273-TALK (8225) and it’s not only for those who are suicidal. Parents who are looking to help suicidal children can call to report possible signs and get advice, tips, and guidance that could prevent a tragedy.