Family of Morgan Dunbar wants to help others after teen's suicide

Bailey Dunbar can still remember the feeling deep inside her stomach when she knew something was wrong with her twin sister, 13-year-old Morgan.

Family creates ‘Morgan’s Mission,’ after teen faced bullying in New Brunswick and Fort McMurray

Twin sister of Morgan, Bailey Dunbar wishes she could have done something to save her sister's life. (CBC)

Bailey Dunbar can still remember the feeling deep inside her stomach when she knew something was wrong with her twin sister Morgan.

“As soon as we pulled up to the house, it was like I couldn’t move. I was paralyzed,” she said while sitting on her bed in her home in Fort McMurray. Framed pictures of her sister smiling and laughing sit on a shelf across the room.

As soon as the family’s truck parked outside of their home, Dunbar raced into the house, first checking her parents' room, then going to the bedroom that she shared with her 13-year-old sister.

Dunbar could hear music and their dog, Laci, whining from the other side of the door. When she turned the door handle, it was locked. She knocked and knocked. Her sister never opened the door. 

Morgan Dunbar died June 27, 2014, the first day of summer vacation, the day after her final day of Grade 6. She took her own life with the music blaring, her dog locked in the room with her. 

"You know something is going on, you do your best to fix it as a parent and teach your kids to be stronger, but at the same time know that they're really falling apart inside. It's hard to watch that and know you can't fix it," Natasha Dunbar said. (CBC)
“I didn’t know she was in that much pain,” Bailey Dunbar said this week. 

“I didn’t see it coming, no one did. I thought she was okay, but I guess she wasn’t.”

That pain is at the centre of the Dunbar family’s healing and is the crux of a new foundation they’ve started called “Morgan’s Mission.”

The goal of Morgan’s Mission is to raise awareness about cyberbullying, which Morgan’s mother, Natasha, says she was victim of, and suicide prevention.

‘Regular, happy kid’

Pointing to a picture of Morgan taken weeks before her death, Natasha Dunbar pauses and calls her the baby, the youngest of her five children.

Morgan and Bailey Dunbar, identical twins. (CBC)
“You would think she is just a regular, happy individual,” she said.

Morgan is smiling in the picture, her brown hair brushed to one side of her face. Behind the big brown eyes and the casual smile lies another story, one the Dunbar family is still struggling to understand.

“Being a twin you have a special bond. You know what the other one is feeling. Morgan — I always knew what she felt,” said Bailey.

Fiercely protective of her sister, who was born seven minutes after her, Bailey said she often defended Morgan when people made fun of her or taunted her at school. In Grade 5, Bailey said she “knocked out” a guy who called Morgan a "jerk."

“I’d always look over her. I was like her guardian angel, she said that to me one day. I’d always just watch over her,” Bailey said, remembering nights when Morgan would crawl into her bed if she was really upset about something that happened at school.

Listen to Edmonton AM's Mark Connolly talk to John Archer about Morgan Dunbar 

Bullied since grade one

Bailey Dunbar can remember her sister being bullied as early as Grade 1. Although they were identical twins, Morgan was smaller than her sister. Bailey remembers classmates in Saint John, New Brunswick, calling her sister "coconut head," "fat" and "ugly."

When the family moved to Fort McMurray in October 2013, the taunts continued, intensifying on the social networking site Facebook.

“A lot of it was just being nasty, telling her she’s ugly, telling her nobody liked her, telling her to go cut herself, telling her she should die,” said Natasha Dunbar, describing the messages she and her husband discovered before Morgan’s death.

“For someone like her, it was hard and it really took an emotional toll on her. And she really felt this is how everybody felt about her.”

Last Christmas, Morgan’s parents deactivated her Facebook account, but months after her death, a relative discovered another Facebook account they believe belonged to Morgan detailing how she felt. Her parents say they were blocked from accessing the site.

Signs of Suicide

Natasha Dunbar wants parents to know the signs of suicide and hopes the "Morgan’s Mission" foundation will help achieve that goal. When Morgan started wearing long-sleeved clothes in January 2013, her mother discovered her daughter was cutting herself.

The family sought help, first turning to their family doctor who referred them to a mental health clinic. Natasha Dunbar said the psychiatrists in Fort McMurray were hesitant to see Morgan because of her age.

“Being she was only 13, a lot of the psychiatrists that are here can’t or won’t — I don’t know which one — deal with kids under the age of 16.”

They were referred to another clinic in Edmonton. Natasha Dunbar said the referral was sent to the wrong address and when a follow up call was made by the clinic at the middle of August, it was too late.

“It was very frustrating to try and make those connections and get a hold of people,” she said.

Purple Day

As a way to remember and celebrate Morgan’s life, the Dunbar family organized a "purple day" on Oct. 22.

Morgan and Bailey Dunbar both loved being cheerleaders in Saint John, N.B. (CBC)
The girls’ former cheerleading team in New Brunswick changed their team colours of red and black to purple that day to remember Morgan, their teammate who helped lead them to two provincial cheerleading championship. A memory wall now hangs in the gymnasium of the Carleton, N.B community centre.

When the initial shock of Morgan’s suicide ebbed, Natasha Dunbar said she reached a crossroads in her life. At that point, the family had already moved out of the home where Morgan died.

“I can let this lead me down a dark road or I can do something to make sure this doesn’t happen to another family,” she said, determined to make "Morgan’s Mission" succeed.

She’d like the foundation to become a national initiative that works with schools and sports teams to raise awareness about bullying and mental health and also to promote kindness.

The way forward

Bailey Dunbar still wishes her sister had talked to her about her struggles, wishes she had shared the hateful messages she received. She wishes she could have helped. 

Natasha Dunbar and her daughter Bailey want "Morgan's Mission" to raise awareness about cyberbullying and prevent suicide. (CBC)
A week before school ended, Bailey says her twin said she needed her help. “I didn’t know what it meant, and I couldn’t help her because I didn’t know what she needed help with,” she said.

Now, four months after Morgan’s death, Natasha Dunbar says Bailey struggles with post traumatic stress disorder. She was the one who pushed the door open after it was unlocked, she was there when Morgan was found dead in the bedroom they shared.

“She feels like half of her is gone. It’s a challenge and it’s going to be a challenge for her everyday for the rest of her life,” Natasha Dunbar said.

That "not right" feeling Bailey had when pulling up to their home hasn’t gone away. 

“I’m hoping I can get through it all, the pain, but I know the pain isn’t going to go. I’m hoping I can change bullying, make it stop for once, maybe, or least try to,” Bailey Dunbar said.