Family of Harlem Boy Who Committed Suicide Needs Money for Funeral

By Jeff Mays on May 31, 2012 11:41pm 

A photo of Joel Morales at a memorial set up in front of the building where he lived with his mother. The 12-year-old hanged himself Tuesday, police said.
A photo of Joel Morales at a memorial set up in front of the building where he lived with his mother. The 12-year-old hanged himself Tuesday, police said.
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DNAinfo/Jeff Mays

HARLEM — The family of a 12-year-old East Harlem boy who hanged himself in his apartment bathroom after being tormented by bullies is trying to raise enough money to lay him to rest, anguished relatives said Thursday.

Joel Morales was found hanging from the curtain rod of his shower in the Jefferson Houses on Second Avenue late Tuesday, hours after he reportedly told a friend he was overwhelmed by bullies who had even taunted him about his father's suicide.

The family is trying to raise $6,200 to cover funeral and burial costs, said Morales' sister Richeliss Salazar, 23. They had yet to finalize arrangements.

Salazar said her family had no apparent warning that Morales was considering suicide.

"I wish we did. We would have stopped it in time," she said. "I will always remember him as a happy kid."

Joel's mother, Lizbeth Babilonia, wailed in Spanish Thursday while leaning against a wall that held a photo of Joel's smiling face.

"My son," Babilonia said in Spanish, collapsing against the wall.

The family has hired a lawyer, Salazar added, saying the family "wants justice when it comes to the bullying that happened to him."

Friends said Morales had complained shortly before his death about being taunted by his peers over his father, Jose Francisco Morales, who committed suicide in 2000.

"This is another loss," said Morales' brother Richard Salazar, 25.

"That was my son, my brother, my everything."

Relatives said the family had transferred Joel to a new school in an effort to stop the bullying.

Department of Education spokeswoman Marge Feinberg declined to comment about the alleged bullying. She said a crisis team had been dispatched to Joel's school at P.S. 57 after his death.

"I'm disgusted by it because there was a level of cruelty involved," East Harlem Councilwoman Melissa Mark-Viverito said of Morales' death.

"The idea that this child felt that what he did was his only option is sad. His mother did everything she could to protect him. She took extraordinary measures," said Mark-Viverito.

Mark-Viverito said she is also speaking with local school officials, the area community education council and the El Barrio/East Harlem Youth Violence Task Force about how to stop bullying.

"We want to make sure schools are sending the right message. Do you recognize the signs?" said Mark-Viverito. "We also want to tell kids that these are your peers. You have to stand up for one another if you see something wrong."

Family friend Elizabeth Hernandez said the city needs to do more to stop bullying in schools.

"They have to stop the bullying. I'm worried about my 7-year-old son. I have to watch him now," Hernandez said.

Jenny Marmo, who visited the grieving family Thursday, has lived in East Harlem most of her life. She said she has witnessed kids being bullied and tried to stop it. Bullying is one reason she said she didn't send her son to school in East Harlem.

"I said to the mother, 'You need to do something. Don't let your son die in vain,'" Marmo said.

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