Asher’s parents respond to abuse allegations

Amy and David Truong

As we mentioned last week, David and Amy Truong have filed a federal lawsuit against the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District and Hamilton Middle School. The Truongs are the parents of Asher Brown, the 13-year-old who committed suicide in September after reportedly being bullied at school.

The Houston Chronicle noted in its report about the lawsuit that the Truong’s older son had been removed from the home by Child and Family Protective Services because of alleged abuse.

The Truongs believe the school district has been raising child abuse allegations since Asher’s death to deflect blame from school officials. The Truongs also questioned how the Houston Chronicle got a copy of the abuse allegations even before the case had gone to family court.

Estella Olguin, a spokeswoman for CFPS in the Houston area, said the agency doesn’t release case files. She said the reporter from the Houston Chronicle obtained a copy directly from the judge. A judge is allowed to release files in open investigations.

Olguin said CFPS normally investigates a home when there is a death of a child, especially if a suicide is involved. Her department cannot, however, investigate and charge a school if bullying was involved — even if negligence by school personnel is found.

CFPS also investigates when someone refers a case.

Olguin could not tell us whether someone referred the case after Asher’s death and if so, who it was. She also could not tell me whether it was referred or it was a routine investigation triggered by the suicide.

The Truongs believe the school district may have asked CFPS to open the investigation.

In their lawsuit, the Truongs accuse school district officials of publicly stating on several occasions that there was no evidence Asher was bullied. Evidence such as David Truong’s signed visitor sheets that show he met with school officials about the problem is missing and, the lawsuit alleges it was destroyed by the district.

David answered the abuse allegations in an email to us. We’ve posted the full text of his email below.

—  David Taffet

Asher Brown’s parents file federal lawsuit; CPS report raises questions about home environment

David and Amy Truong addressed members of the LGBT community who came from around Texas to lobby for anti-bullying laws on March 7. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

The parents of Asher Brown, a gay 13-year-old from the Houston area who took his own life last fall after being bullied by classmates, are suing Hamilton Middle School and the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District for allegedly failing to respond to their complaints. Brown’s parents, Amy and David Truong, announced the federal lawsuit on the steps of the Texas Capitol on Tuesday. From KHOU.com:

“If the bullies were held accountable for their actions, we wouldn’t be standing here right now,” said David Truong, Brown’s stepfather.

The lawsuit reveals details about their son being bullied over being gay and Buddhist.

It includes a claim that their son was kicked down two flights of stairs at school within a day of taking his life.

The lawsuit also claims that evidence of the family’s complaints was destroyed.

Cy-Fair ISD did not return phone calls requesting a comment about the lawsuit.

The Houston Chronicle reports that after Asher’s death, Texas Child Protective Services began investigating the Truongs’ care of Asher and his older brother, who had been hospitalized for mental illness a few weeks before Asher’s suicide.

CPS found that David Truong was a strict disciplinarian who forced the boys to kneel for hours at a time on a brick fireplace hearth, according to the Chronicle. Asher’s older brother told CPS officials that his stepfather once threatened the boys with guns and placed a gun in his mouth. Asher’s parents denied the CPS findings and said David Truong took the guns out to teach the boys about gun safety. They also say Asher’s home environment had nothing to with his death. CPS placed Asher’s older brother in foster care after his suicide.

Click here to download a copy of the Truongs’ lawsuit. Watch KHOU’s report below:

—  John Wright

COVER STORY: The aftermath of tragedy

STANDING UP TO BULLIES | David and Amy Truong address members of the LGBT community who came from around Texas to lobby for anti-bullying laws on March 7. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Amy and David Truong honor the memory of their son, Asher Brown, by working to get anti-bullying legislation passed

DAVID TAFFET  |  Staff Writer
taffet@dallasvoice.com

Amy and David Truong joined about 350 people at the state Capitol in Austin on March 7 to talk to legislators about Asher’s Law. For the Truongs, passing the bill is personal. Asher Brown, who committed suicide in September after being bullied, was their son.

A number of people from around the state who had come to lobby thanked the Truongs for their support. Some shook hands. There were lots of hugs.

The couple shrugged off the thanks.

“We’re all in this together,” David told those he met.

Asher, 13, was a gay eighth-grader at Hamilton Middle School in the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in the northwest corner of Houston. He was, his parents say, a target of constant bullying.

On Sept. 23 last year, Asher went into his father’s closet, retrieved the 9-mm Beretta David kept there, and shot himself. David found his son’s body lying in the closet when he got home from work.

Since then, life for the Truongs has been tough, to say the least.

The Cy-Fair school district blames Asher’s death on problems at home and denied that the family had contacted the school about bullying, and the Truongs have been victims of “a constant stream of harassment” ever since, David said.

EMOTIONAL MEETING | State Sen. Wendy Davis, who authored anti-bullying legislation that was heard in the State Education Committee this week, meets with Amy and David Truong on March 7. (Courtesy Equality Texas)

Every morning, David has to go out to pick up trash neighbors have dumped on the lawn and the beer bottles that have been thrown at the house.

Their house attracts gawkers and hecklers.

“People screaming and yelling from their windows as they drive by,” he said, and some rev their engines when passing the Truong house.

“Some even slow down, stare out their car windows and take several U-turns to gawk and stare at us if we are outside on the front lawn,” he said.

David rarely answers his phone anymore because most of the calls are harassing.

David took a few weeks off from work after Asher’s funeral but was having a hard time. Soon after returning, he was fired.

To avoid harassment in the neighborhood and school, they sent their other son to live with relatives.

But the most telling sign of how Asher’s death has affected this couple is that every time David or Amy mention Asher’s name, their eyes fill with tears.

A group from Youth First Texas was at the Capitol lobbying for anti-bullying legislation the same day as the Truongs. When Amy heard some of the stories of those teens, some of whom also attempted suicide, her shoulders slumped. She looked helpless.

Asher

While the school district blamed Asher’s suicide on problems at home, his mother described a loving son.

“My son was a warm and wonderful child,” said Amy. “He was smart and funny. He loved all of his pets and animals in general. He was well read. By the people who knew him most and accepted him for who he was, he would be your best friend.”

But Asher was bullied in school for two years.

He complained about it the first week of school in August 2008.

“They picked on him for being the new kid, not dressed in Abercrombie & Fitch, having a big head and big ears, his lisp, his chosen religion of Buddhism and their perception of him being gay because of his gentle demeanor and his love of choir,” his father said.

Bullies made jokes about anal sex when Asher would bend over to tie his shoe or ran slower than the rest of the class in gym, his father said.

David told Asher to report the abuse to his teachers, coaches and the school administrators, which he did.

“Amy and I would follow up with phone calls, visits, emails and our own handwritten notes when he would come back to us saying it hadn’t stopped,” he said.
Some of Asher’s classmates told the Truongs that they documented the harassment and bullying they witnessed Asher endure. They filled out their own “incident reports.”

David said that at home they always reinforced that they loved him unconditionally. When Asher came out to them, they told him they loved him no matter what.

Every night the family ate dinner together and talked. Asher seemed relieved just to have the chance to talk about what happened and seemed satisfied with his parents’ attempts to notify the school, David said.

Despite their denial after Asher’s death that the Truongs had ever contacted the school, David said administrators sounded concerned when they got through to someone.

“They told us, ‘We know about what happened to Asher,’” he said.

They always got the same message — when and if the school bothered to respond to their calls, he said.

School administrators told them, “We will do everything to take care of it and we assure you, everything is going to be okay.”

“They did not offer any suggestions,” David said, “But did continue to praise our efforts in working with them to help Asher.”

One even told them, “I wish other parents were as involved as you two are!”

The day before Asher killed himself was particularly bad.

“We did not see bruises on him the day before he died, but his behavior was out of the ordinary in that he did not join us in the family room as he would usually do,” David said. “Instead he chose to read quietly and keep to himself.”

But David said that Asher told him he had a terrible day without going into detail.

According to Asher’s classmates and their parents, bullies tripped him and he fell down a flight of stairs. When he got up and had barely regained his balance, they tripped him again and he fell down a second flight.

None of the assailants were charged with assault or disciplined by the school.

After his death, the school claimed that Asher, his parents, classmates, teachers nor anyone else ever made any reports of him being harassed, taunted or tormented by bullies.

David called these callous attempts to cover up and said it added to their grief and heartache.

The morning he died, Amy said she told Asher she loved him and to have a good day before she left for work. He said, “I love you, too.”

“I went to work and my son was fine,” Amy said. “I came home and he was dead. No one should ever have to come home to police tape around their house. And my son shouldn’t feel like it was the only thing he had left to do.”

“He died because he couldn’t take it anymore,” David said. “People harassed, persecuted, bullied him and no one gave a damn.”

But as much as they talked at home, David said Asher never spoke about suicide.

The school district

The school district continues to deny any blame.

David called administrators banding together to deny any knowledge of the bullying part of the “good old boy network” in the area.

And this isn’t the first time Cy-Fair has been in the news for bullying.

In October 2009, Jayron Martin, 16, was chased and attacked by a group of classmates who wanted to “beat the gay out” of him.

A group of eight boys surrounded him while a ninth attacked him with a metal pipe and beat him with his fists. Jayron was left with a concussion and numerous cuts.

A neighbor with a shotgun scared the boys away. Had he not intervened, Jayron may have been killed.

Jayron said he told the principal, an assistant principal and his bus driver that a group planned to attack him after school.

Students and others claiming to be from the school blamed Jayron for the attack. A number of comments with a variety of different stories were left on the Dallas Voice website under the story of the attack.

In that case, the main attacker was the only one arrested in the incident. He was charged with assault. Because it was handled in juvenile court, the records are sealed.

The school district denied liability since the attack happened off school property, but because of the national publicity, the school district had to do something. So they fired the bus driver. They investigated one assistant principal but did not discipline him or any school administrative staff.

But no one has been disciplined relating to the bullying incidents and ignored reports regarding Asher’s death.

David said, “No one has spoken to us and no further press releases have come from the school since it was revealed by the Houston Chronicle that the district spokeswoman, Kelly Durham, was the wife of Asher’s seventh-grade assistant principal, Alan Durham.”

The future

This week, the Truongs were back in Austin to testify for Sen. Wendy Davis’ anti-bullying bill before Senate Education Committee.

On their earlier visit to Austin, Amy said, “Children shouldn’t have to be tolerating this on any level. My son didn’t deserve it. None of the other children who go through this deserve it. It’s not a right of passage. It’s not boys being boys. This has gone way beyond that and people need to realize it.”

Amy works as an executive assistant and uses her time off from work to lobby for anti-bullying legislation. While not looking for a job, David devotes his time to that same goal.

He said they’d like to move but home prices have taken a much steeper dive in Houston than they have in Dallas. Their house is worth $40,000 less than when they bought it and they cannot afford to move.

And, David said, the suicide makes it much less sellable. Real estate agents would rather not touch a house that was the scene of a shooting.

“Maybe we can rent it out,” he said.

David said they’ve gotten very little sustained support beyond the LGBT community, families of Asher’s friends and their “wonderful and supportive family.”

“We received cards, emails and flowers from all over the country during the first week of the tragedy,” he said, adding that the family appreciated every prayer and every bit of support.

Now, the Truongs are focused on putting their lives back together with counseling and therapy and on keeping Asher’s memory alive with their commitment to help other LGBT youth by passing Asher’s Law and other anti-bullying legislation.

Dennis Coleman, executive director of Equality Texas, said that legislators must hear from their constituents as anti-bullying bills work their way through committee and onto the House and Senate floors. He said a phone call to a representative and senator was a good way to remember Asher.

The Truongs have been working closely with Equality Texas on the pending legislation and understand that despite the publicity about the suicides last fall, passing anti-bullying laws is an uphill battle.

But David repeated several times, “Together we will move mountains.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 25, 2011.

—  John Wright

WATCH: Houston LGBT equality group plans protest near Asher Brown’s school

An LGBT equality group is organizing a protest and vigil on Tuesday afternoon near Hamilton Middle School, where gay 13-year-old Asher Brown was “bullied to death.”

According to the Facebook page, the event is being organized by the Foundation for Family and Marriage Equality, which is described on its own page as a “Houston social justice organization committed to equality for families headed by GLBTQ couples.”

From KTRK in Houston:

The demonstration is set to begin at 3pm across the street from Hamilton Middle School. That is the time that school lets out. Organizers of this event are calling it an anti-bully human rights demonstration and while it will highlight the case of Asher who was a student at Hamilton, the event will address the larger trend that we have seen across the country.

Sadly in September alone nine teens committed suicide across the U.S. because they say they were in some form or fashion bullied at school. Organizers and advocates say schools need programs in place and that states need to pass laws to protect kids like Asher and prevent further tragedy.

“Everybody was feeling really bad about this what has happened to Asher Brown and I think people were just kind of tired of it,” said rally organizer Barry Ouellette. “We wanted to get out and do something about it and make sure that action is taken.”

—  John Wright

Gay teen Asher Brown laid to rest in Houston

The Rev. Stephen Sprinkle
Cross-posted from Unfinished Lives

HOUSTON — Asher Brown’s uncle told a big gathering of mourners and family supporters on Saturday, Oct. 2 that school bullies “ripped him up and tore him down everyday.”

A crowd of hundreds blanketed a Houston park beside Moore Elementary School to express grief over the death by bullying of 13-year-old gay boy, Asher Brown.

Bright balloons floated in the air as the line of friends patiently waited to sign the memorial book and get a chance to speak to David and Amy Truong, Asher’s parents. His uncle, a Christian minister, MC’ed the memorial service.

”The bullies picked on my nephew because of the way he dressed, how he talked, and the fact he was small. He was a David among Goliaths,” Rev. Truong told the large crowd. ”But Asher’s heart was so big! His heart made him a giant.”

Asher’s school friends, the few who stood by him no matter what, were present and spoke. One of them said there was a “Bully Free Zone” sign at Hamilton Middle School where Asher faced torment every day for being different, for being gay, and for being vulnerable. His friend said that the sign meant nothing. Nothing was done by anyone to protect Asher, himself, or any other target of ridicule at Hamilton. The Truongs had repeatedly tried to get school officials to help their son, but the school basically ignored their calls and emails.

Initially, a spokesperson for the school district denied that any appeals had come to the school about Asher and the severe bullying he was facing there. Now the Cy-Fair Independent School District is acknowledging that “some communication” concerning Asher did indeed come from his parents.

The gay teen shot himself in his Dad’s closet on Sept. 23 after bullying became unendurable for him. When David Truong, Asher’s Dad, found Asher lying on the floor of his closet, he thought at first that his son had fallen asleep reading a book–and then he saw the blood.

Referring to Asher’s six friends who spoke at the outdoor memorial service, David Truong said, “These kids are the true heroes of this whole thing. They are speaking out, and we need to support them.”

Houston City Councilwoman Jolanda Jones told the crowd that she and Mayor Annise Parker are taking this senseless killing in Houston as a “call to action” for passage of a zero tolerance anti-bullying law that will be named “Asher’s Rule” as a fitting memorial to a good boy who just wanted to live his life–though bullies wouldn’t let him.

Many supporters from the LGBTQ community came to show their support for safe schools for all children, and to support Asher’s family.

Asher’s uncle declared that “gay and straight alike are perfect in God’s sight. God doesn’t make any mistakes.” What happened to his nephew was not going to be dismissed as simply a “gay issue.”

”This is a hate issue, and we are not going to rest until all children are safe from hate at school,” he said.

For more photos of the Asher Brown Memorial Service, click here.

Stephen V. Sprinkle is director of field education and supervised ministry, and sssociate professor of practical theology at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth.

—  John Wright

Advocates push safe schools bill in wake of suicide

Parents of Houston teen who shot himself last week say school officials didn’t respond to repeated complaints, leading to 13-year-old being ‘bullied to death’

John Wright  |  Online Editor wright@dallasvoice.com

Asher Brown
Asher Brown

HOUSTON — The recent bullying-related suicide of a gay Texas teen highlights the need for comprehensive safe schools legislation protecting LGBTQ students, advocates said this week.

Asher Brown, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Hamilton Middle School in northwest Harris County, fatally shot himself on Thursday, Sept. 23 after his parents said he was “bullied to death” over a period of 18 months for, among other things, being gay.

Asher’s parents allege that school officials failed to respond to their repeated complaints about the bullying — which included other students simulating gay sex acts on their son. Asher came out as gay to his stepfather the same day he took his own life by shooting himself in the head with a 9mm Baretta.

His suicide was one of four in recent weeks around the country tied to anti-gay bullying, prompting calls to action from advocacy groups and tentative plans for vigils in cities nationwide the weekend of Oct. 9-10.

“It’s devastating. It’s horrible,” said Chuck Smith, deputy director of Equality Texas, the statewide gay-rights group. “You don’t want to see any child hurt, much less lose their life, because of an unsafe school environment.”

Asher’s suicide is the first in recent memory in Texas that can be directly tied to anti-gay bullying, Smith said. However, a national survey in 2009 found that 90 percent of LGBT middle and high-school students had experienced harassment at school in the last year, while nearly two-thirds felt unsafe because of their sexual orientation.

A safe schools bill that includes sexual orientation and gender identity was introduced — but failed to pass — in each of the last two state legislative sessions.

“Part of the reason why the bill hasn’t passed is because it hasn’t risen to the level of being deemed legislation that we absolutely have to deal with,” Smith said.“If there is any silver lining to Asher Brown’s death, hopefully it raises awareness that please, let us deal with this before another child dies.”

Equality Texas this week called on members to contact legislators and urge them to support the safe schools bill sponsored by Rep. Mark Strama, D-Austin, in next year’s session. The group also noted that Asher’s suicide marked the second time in less than a year that officials in Houston’s Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District have been accused of failing to respond to complaints of anti-gay bullying until it was too late.

Last November, a freshman at Cy-Fair ISD’s Langham Creek High School was beaten with a metal pipe in what he said was an anti-gay attack. Jayron Martin, 16, said at the time that he had begged two principals and his bus driver to intervene prior to the attack, but they failed to do so.

Asher’s death was one of four this month in the U.S. that stemmed from anti-gay bullying and harassment in schools, according to media reports.

Seth Walsh, a gay 13-year-old from California, died in a hospital on Tuesday, Sept. 28 after hanging himself from a tree in his back yard several days earlier.Billy Lucas, a 15-year-old high school freshman, hung himself in his family’s barn in Greensburg, Ind., on Thursday, Sept. 9. And Tyler Clementi, an 18-year-old freshman at Rutgers University, jumped off a bridge this week after his roommate secretly streamed on the Internet a live recording of him having sex with another man.

“These horrific stories of youth taking their own lives reflect on school bullying culture in this country,” said Charles Robbins, executive director of Trevor Project, a national organization focused on crisis intervention and suicide prevention among LGBTQ youth.

“To be clear, they do not point to a contagion of teen or youth suicide, but that the media, parents, teachers and friends are more in-tune to speaking up about the causes,” Robbins said. “We extend our deepest condolences to the family and friends affected by the loss of these wonderful individuals.”

Hayley Gorenberg, deputy legal director for Lambda Legal, the national LGBT civil rights group, also expressed condolences.

“But sympathy is not enough — we all have a responsibility to take action, and to keep working until all young people are safe and respected, no matter what their sexual orientation or gender identity,” Gorenberg said. “We must push for laws on the federal level and in every state that prohibit bullying and discrimination.

“We must hold people accountable, and use the courts when necessary. And most importantly, we must love and teach all our children to be their best selves and to respect and support others to do the same.”

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 01, 2010.

—  Michael Stephens

Does Asher Brown’s suicide indicate a pattern of ignoring anti-gay bullying in Houston district?

Asher Brown

Asher Brown’s suicide marks the second time in less than a year that officials in Houston’s Cypress-Fairbanks school district have been accused of failing to respond to complaints of anti-gay bullying until it was too late.

Brown, a 13-year-old eighth-grader at Cy-Fair ISD’s Hamilton Middle School, took his own life last Thursday, the same day he had come out to his stepfather as gay:

The 13-year-old’s parents said they had complained about the bullying to Hamilton Middle School officials during the past 18 months, but claimed their concerns fell on deaf ears.

David and Amy Truong said they made several visits to the school to complain about the harassment, and Amy Truong said she made numerous phone calls to the school that were never returned.

Last November, a freshman at Cy-Fair ISD’s Langham Creek High School was beaten with a metal pipe in what he said was an anti-gay attack. Jayron Martin, 16, said at the time that he had begged two principals and his bus driver to intervene before the attack, but they failed to do so.

Hours before the incident, Martin said a friend told him a group was planning to attack him. The teen said he talked with two administrators about his concerns. The administrators took a written statement from him, said Martin.

“I sat down in the cafeteria and I started writing the letter and so then I handed it to them and they said, ‘We are going to call y’all down and stuff like that,’” he said.

Martin said he was never called to the office, and the administrator didn’t call his mother.

Equality Texas, the statewide gay rights group, issued an action alert Tuesday calling on people to contact their legislators and urge them to pass safe schools legislation that protects LGBTQ youth. In particular, Equality Texas targeted members whose state representatives’ districts include Cy Fair ISD: HD 126, Patricia Harless; HD 130, Allen Fletcher; HD 132, Bill Callegari; HD 133, Kristi Thibaut; HD 135, Gary Elkins; and HD 138, Dwayne Bohac.

Also, Change.org has launched a petition addressed to Cy-Fair Superintendent David Anthony, spokeswoman Kelli Durham and the district as a whole. But if you’d like to give them a call instead of signing the petition, here’s a full list of district staff phone numbers.

UPDATE: Below is a follow-up story that aired Tuesday about Asher’s suicide and the district’s response:

—  John Wright

Anti-gay bullying drives Houston teen to suicide; parents say school officials ignored complaints

Asher Brown

A 13-year-old in Houston committed suicide last week in response to anti-gay bullying at school, The Houston Chronicle reports.

The parents of eighth-grader Asher Brown say he was “bullied to death” after officials at Hamilton Middle School ignored their complaints:

Brown, his family said, was “bullied to death” — picked on for his small size, his religion and because he did not wear designer clothes and shoes. Kids also accused him of being gay, some of them performing mock gay acts on him in his physical education class, his mother and stepfather said.

The 13-year-old’s parents said they had complained about the bullying to Hamilton Middle School officials during the past 18 months, but claimed their concerns fell on deaf ears.

David and Amy Truong said they made several visits to the school to complain about the harassment, and Amy Truong said she made numerous phone calls to the school that were never returned.

Asher Brown shot himself with his stepfather’s 9mm Beretta last Thursday. The Chronicle says Asher had come out as gay to his stepfather on the morning of his death. But KRIV-TV Channel 26 reports that Asher came out to his parents over the summer.

Unlike many states, Texas has no law that prohibits bullying and harassment on the basis of sexual orientation.

—  John Wright