Rafu Staff Report
FOLSOM, Calif. — Ronin Shimizu, a 12-year-old middle-school student, took his own life on Dec. 2 at his home, apparently as a result of being bullied.
Folsom police officials on Dec. 4 said that Ronin’s death was “not suspicious,” meaning that it could have been an accidental death or suicide, but the Sacramento County Coroner’s Office confirmed on Dec. 5 that it was a suicide, according to The Sacramento Bee.
The seventh-grader had attended Folsom Middle School, where he was a member of the Vista Jr. Eagles cheerleading squad. Friends say that he was bullied for being a male cheerleader, and as a result switched to home schooling. He was enrolled at Folsom Cordova Community Charter School, whose students study at home and meet with parents and teachers every two weeks at Sutter Middle School, according to The Bee.
Members of the cheerleading squad held a candlelight vigil near Ronin’s home on Dec. 4, and competitors at the UCA (Universal Cheerleaders Association) Northern California Regional Cheer Competition on the UC Davis campus on Saturday observed a moment of silence for Ronin.
Former cheerleader and current cheer coach Kennedy Smith told Fox 40 News, “It’s cruel that kids judge other people by what they love. I mean, he isn’t hurting anyone, minding his own business. I really couldn’t believe it.”
Both Smith and Tony Oka, head cheer coach at Sacramento State, also experienced taunting. “I went through it,” Oka said. “I’ve been involved with cheerleading for 15 years now. Just stick through it. Stick with what you love. If you love doing it, then do it.”
Kim D’Agostino, a vice president of the Vista Jr. Eagles, established a fundraising campaign for Ronin’s family on gofundme.com. “Our hearts are heavy as we mourn the loss of Ronin Shimizu,” D’Agostino wrote. “Ronin … took his own life because of being bullied.
“Besides dealing with the loss of their beloved child, his parents are now facing the unexpected costs this tragedy has brought. Please help us put an end to bullying by educating our children on the devastating effects it can have on another human being.
“Once an Eagle, always an Eagle. We will miss you, Ronin.”
As of Monday night, more than $9,000 had been raised toward the $25,000 goal.
Memorial pages have also been established on Facebook, including “Ronin Shimizu: The Lone Samurai” and “Ronin’s Voice.”
Ronin’s parents, Brandon and Danielle Shimizu, issued the following statement on Saturday: “The tragic loss of our son has and will forever change our life. The love and support that we received from family, friends and the Folsom community has been immeasurable and words cannot begin to express our gratitude through this most difficult grieving process.
“The people close to our family know exactly who Ronin was, but since the story of this tragedy has spread worldwide, we want to take a minute to let the world know who he was. Ronin was one of the most loving, compassionate, empathetic, artistic and funny kids to grace this earth. Ronin was a child who was not afraid to follow his heart, and we as his parents did everything in our power to allow him to pursue his passions, while protecting him from the minority that could not understand the specialness he possessed.
“As you already know, Ronin loved to do cheer, but he also loved art, fashion, being a Scout and most recently crew/rowing. It is true that because of his specialness, Ronin was a target of bullying by individuals that could not understand or accept his uniqueness. Ronin was not just a target of bullying because of his participation in cheer, but for him just being Ronin.
“We as his parents always knew that he would make an impact on the world; we just thought it would be in something like fashion design or art-related. We had no idea that God and Buddha had a more important role for him, and we as his parents will make it our mission in life to turn this tragedy into something positive and hopefully prevent another senseless tragedy.
“In closing, please remember that education in regards to bullying prevention does not only need to occur in our schools but also in the home.”
John Bliss, principal of Folsom Middle School, said in an email to parents that “this news has deeply saddened many of our students and staff who knew him. Today we have and will continue to provide counseling and support to students and staff who need assistance dealing with their grief.”
Daniel Thigpen, spokesman for the Folsom Cordova Unified School District, told The Bee that incidents of bullying against Ronin had been reported. “I can tell you we looked into each one of them and investigated them fully and took appropriate action for each instance.” But he acknowledged, “We’re certainly using this as an opportunity to look back at how we looked at the allegations.”
Folsom Cordova Unified School District Superintendent Deborah Bettencourt said in a statement, “Hearts continue to ache throughout our school communities over the tragic loss of young Ronin Shimizu. Please continue to keep his family, friends and loved ones in your thoughts and prayers during this terribly difficult time.
“As we all process our shock and sadness, our school district has understandably received many questions about how we address bullying in our schools. We may never know all of the factors that led to Ronin’s passing, but we share your concern in any case where a child may have endured torment. We must not only talk about bullying, but we must work together to stop it.
“We expect all members of our school communities — students, staff and families — to treat each other with respect, kindness and dignity. Every child deserves to learn and succeed in a safe, caring and accepting environment. When that is not happening, we must take action. As a school district, we will not tolerate bullying, harassment or intimidation of any kind. Students found to engage in such harmful, destructive behavior will face serious consequences.
“It’s important to emphasize that prevention is an equally important part of this conversation. Folsom Cordova has long implemented character education and positive school climate programs in our classrooms that teach empathy, communication and other skills and habits that are intended to stop bullying before it happens. We regularly train our teachers and staff members on how to respond to reports of bullying.
“Many of our schools provide additional programs and resources tailored for their school communities. And earlier this year, our district joined the City of Rancho Cordova to host a screening of the documentary ‘Bully’ and led a productive group discussion with families.
“Looking ahead, we remain committed to continuing a meaningful, lasting dialogue with our community about working together to prevent bullying and provide children with the physical and emotional support they deserve. Our schools already are exploring additional resources and activities for our students, and we are seeking your input as well.
“We all play an important role in addressing this issue. Students can make an impact by speaking up to an adult when they witness bullying, or standing up for their classmates when it is safe to do so. I also encourage families to keep talking to your children about bullying and any difficult feelings or experiences they have endured.
“No child should suffer from bullying. Please join me in taking a stand against this problem.”
Rep. Mike Honda (D-San Jose) commented, “My heart goes out to the family and friends of Ronin Shimizu … I founded the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus to call attention to the bullying epidemic, so we as a nation can work together and commit to ending it. Until we change our attitudes toward bullying, and stop accepting it as a ‘rite of passage,’ children such as Ronin will continue to suffer.”
Actor and activist George Takei said in a Facebook post, “Bullying is still rampant in our schools. In this tragic case, Ronin just wanted to be a cheerleader — and for that he was called ‘fag,’ ‘gay’ and ‘queer’ before taking his own life. Please share his story and help end bullying.”
Marsha Aizumi, co-author of “Two Spirits, One Heart: A Mother, Her Transgender Son, and Their Journey to Love and Acceptance,” commented, “As a mother of a son that was also seen as different, it breaks my heart that Ronin could not be accepted for who he was and what he loved to do. Creating safe spaces for our children must be a priority of our schools.
“And all of us as parents have a responsibility to teach our children to be more accepting and kinder human beings. Only then will our world change and allow beautiful souls like Ronin’s to flourish as their true selves.”