The father of a northeast Iowa teenager who committed suicide is addressing rumors that his son was bullied. Seventeen-year-old Dustin VanLaningham of Oelwein took his own life over the weekend. A memorial page created for Dustin on Facebook has included posts claiming the teen was picked on by other students.
Oelwein Schools Superintendent Steve Westerberg says counselors are talking with students about the allegations. “Anytime you lose a student, it’s traumatic for everyone,” Westerberg said.
“And Dustin’s death over the weekend hit everyone very, very hard.” Westerberg said no one — not Dustin, his family, friends or staff — ever reported him being bullied. Dustin’s father, Chris VanLaningham, heard about the Facebook posts and wrote a letter that was delivered to Oelwein students and staff on Tuesday.
“He was very motivated by (the Facebook posts) and felt the record needed to be set straight, so he wrote out a letter to share with the students and staff,” Westerberg said. In the letter, Dustin’s father wrote: “Pointing fingers at any one individual does not bring him back nor will it solve the underlying issues. Dustin did have teachers who cared enough about him and would do what they could to help him.”
Some close friends of Dustin have said they believe bullying only played a small role in his suicide. Superintendent Westerberg said it’s difficult to speculate why the accusations of bullying arose, but he noted it’s an issue many people have faced in their lives and whenever someone is lost in such a tragic way, people want to make sense of the tragedy.
“I think everyone has felt, at some level, they’ve been bullied at some point in their lives. So, I think people can relate to some situation where they felt they were bullied,” Westerberg said. Family and friends paid tribute to Dustin with a march and ride through downtown Oelwein and around the high school Tuesday night.
By Jillian Petrus, KCRG-TV, Cedar Rapids