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Did Bullying Drive 12-Year-Old East Harlem Boy To Commit Suicide?

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- An East Harlem community is mourning the death of a 12-year-old boy and asking why the happy child committed suicide.

Joel Morales was found dead by his mother inside their apartment at the Jefferson Houses at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday. The boy hanged himself in the bathroom, 1010 WINS' Juliet Papa reported.

For those who knew and loved the child, it's all too hard to believe.

"There's no explaining how much I miss my brother," Richard Salazar told CBS 2's John Slattery on Thursday. "My brother was an angel. My brother, everybody looked out for my brother. They made sure nobody bothered him.

"The day before he died, he told me he loved me.  I was his best brother.  I was his father."

"He' just a loving kid. That's all I have to say, a loving happy kid," half-sister Richeliss Salazar added.

Neighbors said Morales was a pleasant, smiling kid who was always seen playing in the yard and never suspected anything was wrong.

1010 WINS' Juliet Papa reports


"He was the type of kid every parent would love to have," neighbor Felix Sanabria said. "He was respectful, polite, and loved playing with the kids."

Neighbor Chynah Cruz said she saw Morales just hours before his death.

"He was outside playing with my son and everything was fine," Cruz said.

The boy's family claims Morales was being relentlessly bullied and it got so bad that his mother pulled him out of P.S. 102 in East Harlem six months ago and transferred him to P.S. 57.

"She made police reports, she did everything as a mother to protect her child," one neighbor said.

When asked if the boy was being bullied, his occupational therapist, Sadi Hashmi, said, "Yes.  I mean that school was well aware of what was happening."

Morales' brother said older kids teased, followed Joel, and beat him up.

"The little kids came to my house and threw sticks at my door. They hit my little brother at school. The crossing guards at the school saw it and they saved my brother from getting his head broken," Richard Salazar said. "Getting beat up, getting picked on, and I just kept teaching him not to fight, and I guess that was my mistake."

Morales' sisters said Joel kept his feelings inside and pretended nothing was happening so his family wouldn't worry about him.

The Department of Education issued a statement saying, "A crisis team was provided at the school to offer counseling to staff and students. We cannot comment further."

Morales' suicide comes just one day after a major bullying crackdown in New Jersey.

Two teenagers at Morristown High School, as well as 19-year-old Michael Conway, are facing criminal charges, accused of driving 15-year-old Lennon Baldwin to suicide.

"By any means necessary, this has to stop," Sanabria said. "I know it's been around for ages, but to the point where kids are now taking their lives, it's absurd."

There is no word yet if the Manhattan district attorney will be launching an investigation into Morales' suicide.

What actions can be taken to prevent bullying? Let us know below...

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