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Teen who took his own life 'shielded' family from bullying

Published December 3, 2012 7:50 am

Suicide • Family calls for meeting with school officials to talk about bullying.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Kearns • The family of David Phan, the teen who committed suicide at Bennion Junior High in front of peers, talked publicly about the tragedy for the first time Sunday, making it clear that they had learned of the 14-year-old boy's torment only after it was too late.

They called for a meeting with school officials to clear up conflicting reports, particularly about how bullying contributed to the circumstances of his death.

"David was an outstanding son but he shielded his parents from the horror and negative experiences he was facing at Bennion Junior High," Thanh-Tung Than-Trong, a cousin of Phan and family spokeswoman, said at an impromptu press conference on Sunday. "The last few days have been an absolute living nightmare to learn that he was bullied in school where he was supposed to be in a safe learning environment. … Let us not deny the numerous accounts that David was a victim of serious bullying at school."

The family spokeswoman also called for Bennion staff to be trained to create an "effective anti-discrimination safe zone."

"We don't want David's life to be tarnished as a bullied kid who was pushed to the limit," Than-Trong said Sunday afternoon in front of the Kearns Library, next door to the church where family members gathered for the boy's viewing.

When contacted after the family news conference, Ben Horsley, Granite School District spokesman, reiterated that school officials had been alerted to bullying problems two years ago, but he said educators had not been contacted about any recent incidents. He said school administrators are given anti-bullying training and that, under state law, teachers must watch an online program.

"We welcome a conversation with the family," Horsley said Sunday. "Frankly, we're at a loss. Without identifying perpetrators or incidents, we're unsure how to proceed."

Horsley said officials are concerned about the grief of the family, students and faculty.

"Our hearts go out to the family and we will get together at the appropriate time," he said.

The boy's father, Nhuan Phan, his older brother, Don Phan, and two cousins, stood next to Than-Trong as she read the prepared statement in front of the closed library. She did not take questions from the media.

The impromptu family news conference came after the school district released its investigation on Friday. District spokesman Horsley had said: "While the administration and police still have outstanding questions with respect to what led this student to take this action, what is clear at this point in time is that [the student] was facing significant personal challenges on multiple fronts."

Recently, David had been speaking with a school counselor about some personal problems, Horsley said, but nothing that involved the school, students or teachers. In addition, Horsley said on Friday that no Bennion Junior student had come forward with information about bullying involving David, even after a school announcement asked for such information and recent chatter on social media about bullying.

"Despite specific personal inquiries, David never reported any further bullying concerns and on the contrary, reported that things were going well," Horsley said in a statement on Friday.

The teen shot himself on Thursday shortly after 3 p.m. He left school at about 1:30 p.m. with his mother but returned to the pedestrian bridge over 6200 South at 2700 West that links to the school's campus just as classes were getting out, Unified Police Lt. Justin Hoyal said. There, he met up with some other students and produced a handgun just before shooting himself.

The Phan family called for those with knowledge of bullying to report it.

"We encourage David's friends, peers and community members to come forward with information to their school administration in order to empower our youth and create safe places in our schools," Than-Trong said. "Please report bullying when you see or hear it."

The family will have a private funeral service this week. Instead of flowers, people can contribute to the Wells Fargo Bank account set up in David Phan's name called The Anti-bullying Foundation.

While the boy's father cried next to her, Than-Trong said at the library, "[David] was raised with compassion and understanding, with a goal to contribute to society. We miss his beautiful smile, his exceptional personality and his witty sense of humor."

rparker@sltrib.com

Twitter @ rayutah