Saskatchewan

Parents want 'justice for Kaleab' as jury begins deliberations at coroner's inquest into teen's suicide

Kaleab Schmidt's parents say the 13-year-old fell through the cracks.

The inquest into a teen's death by suicide is unprecedented in Saskatchewan

Sandra Barker-Schmidt and Dean Schmidt told reporters the life of their son Kaleab will stand for change. The 13-year-old's suicide is the subject of a coroner's inquest in Regina. (Brian Rodgers/CBC)

Kaleab Schmidt fell through the cracks.

That's what Sandra Barker-Schmidt and Dean Schmidt told reporters in Regina on Thursday, after the last of the evidence had been presented at the coroner's inquest into their son's death.

"We were reaching out and no one was listening," Sandra said. "I was screaming for help." 

Kaleab, 13, took his own life on his family farm near Balgonie, Sask., on April 30, 2018.

About 20 witnesses were called to testify during the inquest, which began on Monday.

The six-member inquest jury heard that Kaleab had been bullied by some of his peers at Greenall High School, and had been subjected to racial slurs at least three times.

His parents testified that the third time he was called the N-word, Kaleab fought the classmate who said it.

Kaleab was suspended from school for his role in the fight.

Kaleab's final days

The final days of Kaleab's life were eventful, and were the focus of much of the testimony during the inquest.

The teen was suspended from school for four days before his death — his third suspension. He had been in an altercation with a classmate during a lunch-hour basketball game.

RCMP chose to charge Kaleab with assault causing bodily harm for the incident on April 29, 2018, the day before his death.

On April 30, his mother Sandra had been in contact with social workers, indicating the family was becoming overwhelmed by their son's behaviour.

The six-member inquest jury heard that Kaleab had been bullied by some of his peers at Greenall High School, and had been subjected to racial slurs at least three times. (Submitted)

Kaleab was frustrated by his home life and expressed a desire to be taken in by social services.

A social services screening determined an urgent visit to the farm was necessary. A social worker made another call to the family early in the afternoon. She spoke to Kaleab's father, Dean, who was at home with his son.

He indicated Kaleab was feeling OK, and he was being checked on frequently. Having heard that, the social workers decided not to visit the farm.

Dean found his son a couple hours later in the family's barn. He had killed himself.

'If we can save one child' 

A coroner's inquest into a teen's suicide is unprecedented in Saskatchewan. Typically, inquests are called when someone dies in state custody. When the justice system is involved, a coroner's inquest is legally required.

Kaleab's mom, Sandra, said the province and family wanted the discretionary inquest because even though many people and agencies had contact with Kaleab, he still ended up dying by suicide.

"We need to do this for justice for Kaleab," she said, and to try to "save one child or one family from going through what we've gone through — and are still going through every day."

The family hopes their son's death sheds light on the racism and bullying that kids are still subjected to in Saskatchewan schools.

The jury at the inquest, presided over by coroner Alma Wiebe, began deliberating Friday. They will assess all of the evidence presented during the inquest and can make recommendations to the province to help prevent future deaths.

The family said it's time the "rubber hits the pavement" and changes are made, including added training and resources in the different provincial bodies that had contact with their son before his death.

"His name is going to stand for something," Dean said.

"He will never be forgotten by his friends and he's going to stand for change. He was a real leader."


If you're experiencing suicidal thoughts or having a mental health crisis, help is available.

For an emergency or crisis situation, call 911.

You can also contact the Saskatchewan suicide prevention line toll-free, 24/7 by calling 1-833-456-4566, texting 45645, or chatting online.

You can contact the Regina mobile crisis services suicide line at 306-525-5333 or Saskatoon mobile crisis line at 306-933-6200.

You can also text CONNECT to 686868 and get immediate support from a crisis responder through the Crisis Text Line, powered by Kids Help Phone.

Kids Help Phone can also be reached at 1-800-668-6868, or you can access live chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Brian Rodgers is a videojournalist and producer with CBC Saskatchewan.

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