Sioux Falls, SD
"This is how we were," Tabatha Welsh said, staring down at a picture of her family.
She never thought this would happen to her, but Welsh is speaking out about her son's suicide. Despite being a teenager who loved to laugh and make people smile, 16-year-old Derrick Kester killed himself on Tuesday night. The Lincoln High School student was a target of bullying.
Welch's friends and family are all thinking about her, but she's pondering happier times.
"He loved pretending he was playing a real guitar," Welsh said, staring at a picture of her son mimicking playing the guitar.
No matter what, Welsh says her son Derrick would smile and put on a brave face. She remembers a recent flu shot Derrick received.
"He's like, 'bring it on, I got this,'" Welsh said, smiling. "You know, she came back with the needles. All of a sudden he said, 'I want your hand.' His doctor looked at him and goes, ' So, Derrick, can you tell me what's going on?' You could see Derrick was ashamed."
Welsh knows her son was not perfect and displayed all of the signs of a normal and sometimes moody teenager. She also knows her son was bullied. On October 30, he hung himself in his room.
"There was no note. There was nothing," Welsh said.
But there was something going on at school. Kids made fun of Kester's weight and told him he was worthless.
"It's never going to stop until we have classrooms that are small enough, so teachers can be more aware so they can hear what someone whispers under their breath to another student because they are different," Welsh said.
KELOLAND News reached out to the Sioux Falls School District and officials issued the following statement:
Our deepest sympathies go out to the family and friends. The Sioux Falls School District is committed to the academic, social and emotional growth of all students. Every member of our staff - from teachers to custodians - works to build meaningful relationships with students to assist them with individual challenges. The District is committed to continuing our efforts to provide a wide array of resources to help students with academic, social and/or emotional needs.
However, the bullying did not stop when class was over. Some of it was easy to spot, like when a neighbor kid beat Kester up. Then there were the ways that were not as noticeable to a parent.
"There was messaging on Facebook," Welsh said. "I believe there was some on [Facebook] walls and the private messages sent back and forth," Welsh said.
Kester had been treated for depression last year, admitted suicidal thoughts and had attempted to take his life. Welsh took the situation seriously, but like many parents, she never thought her son would actually kill himself.
"You might not think anyone is going to do it, but everybody is very capable of it. There are no warning signs, because I thought we had it under control. But, that wasn't it," Welsh said.
Welsh said bullying is still a problem, and now she is the one putting on a brave face by sharing her story to protect other moms and dads from this kind of loss.
"If I could go back I would take his place, but his journey has ended. My journey has just begun," Welsh said. "Everything that I do from this day on out is to give my son justice before I leave this earth."
There is a memorial fund set up to help the family with funeral costs. You can donate at any Wells Fargo. You just say you want to give money to the Derrick Kester Memorial Fund.