Terry Badger III’s parents see reminders of him everywhere: on their phones, where his sports practices still pop up in their calendars. In the neighbors’ basketball court, quiet without him shooting hoops there. Even in the sky: Terry went by the nickname “TB3,” and on the morning of what would have been his first baseball tournament of the season, curly wisps of clouds formed into a number three as the sun rose.
But there’s one place where the Badgers hope to never see reminders of their son: in any other young lives cut short by suicide.
Terry, 13, killed himself at home in Covington, Indiana, on March 6. In his final moments, his parents said, he recorded a video on his cellphone in which he named bullies at school and said they were the reason he was taking his own life.
Terry’s mother, Robyn Badger, was on a quick trip to the gas station when Terry died.
“It’s every day, continuous,” she said of the pain she has felt since. “I’ve lived that day every day.”
Terry’s death has galvanized support for an Indiana state bill that would create a statewide blueprint for schools to end bullying. The bill passed in the state House in February but had languished in the state Senate until Terry’s death put a renewed spotlight on it, with more than 86,400 people signing a change.org petition urging the Indiana General Assembly to take action as of Friday afternoon.
The bipartisan House Bill 1483 is now expected to become law as early as next week. It would require Indiana schools to notify the parents of a bullying victim within three business days that an incident has been reported and to notify the parents of an alleged bullying perpetrator within five business days.
Program teaches teens how to help peers struggling with mental healthApril 6, 202302:38
It also requires schools to determine the severity of the bullying and whether the incident merits the transfer of the victim or perpetrator to a different school within the district for the victim’s safety.
On Wednesday, a state Senate committee advanced the bill, which is now headed to the Senate floor. The bill’s author requested it be called TB3’s Law, after Terry.
“I definitely think it would have saved Terry,” Democratic State Rep. Vernon G. Smith said in a phone interview, “but it will save persons in the future.”
Terry’s parents agree.
“We’re very proud of him,” Terry Badger II said, choking up.
‘They hounded him’
The Terry his parents saw was happy. He enjoyed fishing with his family. He loved hunting for mushrooms, even though he didn’t like eating them. He excelled in basketball and soccer.
But the seventh grader’s biggest passion was baseball, where he had a batting average of around .400 last season. On the Saturday before he died, he threw a pitch that clocked in at 71 mph, his dad said. Over the years, he had a total of 27 home runs; he signed and dated each ball, noting the location of every home run on all of them.
He dreamed of playing in the major leagues, preferably for the St. Louis Cardinals.
But at school, Terry was not happy at all, his parents said. Kids bullied him over everything. When Terry got a haircut from the barbershop, he came home from school the next day and begged his dad to give him a new haircut, telling him kids were laughing at his appearance.
Another time, Terry threw the custom-color Nike Air Max sneakers that he had asked his grandparents and sister to get him for Christmas and his birthday in his closet.
“I asked him, ‘What’s wrong?’ And he’s like, ‘They’re making fun of me for my shoes now. And I’m not wearing them ever again,’ Terry Badger said.
In November, the Badgers had a meeting with school officials at Covington Middle School. They say administrators never stopped the teasing and bullying, which they learned after his death was even worse than they thought.
“We asked him every day if he was OK,” Robyn Badger said, adding that Terry would usually say school was fine. But “he was being called a fat ass and told to kill himself every day. We didn’t know any of that.”
“He was told that this world would be better if he just went home and shot himself. He was told that he was never going to make it to the MLB,” Terry Badger added. “They hounded him about that. His clothes, they asked him all the time if he shopped at goodwill.”
Covington School District superintendent Brady Scott told NBC News in an email that the school district is continuing “to try and heal from this tragedy.”
He maintained that Covington Middle School took appropriate steps to protect Terry. He referred to a statement on the district’s website that said a third-party investigation by an Indiana law firm into the school’s anti-bullying policy, handbook and documents related to Terry “did determine the School was responsive to any concerns raised and followed protocols by working with students directly.”
“Any concern, allegation, situation, or issue brought forth by a student or parent is fully evaluated and addressed by administration,” Scott wrote in an email. He also said he supported the state anti-bullying bill.
Both the superintendent and Church Church Hittle + Antrim Law, the firm that conducted the third-party review, declined to share the findings with NBC News.
But Terry’s parents disagree that there was appropriate action taken after their meeting.
“If I ever in a million years thought that this would have been the outcome, I would have completely taken him out of school,” Robyn Badger said.
Warning signs, even when it seems there are none
Terry’s death comes as a youth mental health crisis grips the country. Regardless, suicide is not an inevitability, said Susan Tellone, clinical director of the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide.
She said that even when it seems like there are no warning signs that teenagers are considering ending their lives, there are subtle indicators that parents or other adults can look for, including mood swings, social withdrawal or a child suddenly choosing to stop doing an activity that they previously enjoyed.
“Many teenagers, they don’t come to us as the adults in their world and say, ‘I’m thinking about suicide.’ They may say, ‘I can’t take it anymore.’ ‘No one would notice if I wasn’t here.’ ‘I’m a burden.’ ‘I’m out, I’m done,’” she said. “So we have to really listen to what kids are saying.”
“Many teenagers, they don't come to us as the adults in their world and say, ‘I’m thinking about suicide.’ They may say, ‘I can't take it anymore.’ ‘No one would notice if I wasn’t here.’ ‘I’m a burden.’ ‘I’m out, I’m done.’”
Susan Tellone, clinical director of the Society for the Prevention of Teen Suicide
That’s particularly important when children are in stressful situations that they don’t see a way out of, she said, which might be anything from a romantic breakup, to failing a class, to getting kicked off a sports team and jeopardizing a college scholarship.
“They don’t have the life experience that we have to know that you get through tough times,” Tellone said. “They feel that they’ve done everything within their power to solve the problem, and there’s no other way out but to end the pain by ending their life.”
She suggested parents hear their children out without judgment and without minimizing what they are going through.
“Ask the question, ‘Have things gotten so bad in your life that you’re actually thinking of dying? That you don’t want to live anymore?’” she said. “If the answer is yes, we’ve got to get them help.”
Terry’s parents feel more stringent anti-bullying protocols for schools will be one step in the right direction. Their hope is that the blueprint proposed for Indiana will be extended to every state, saving kids across the country.
“I’m proud of what he’s become and what he’s done for others, and always have been,” Terry Badger II said of his son. “But this, really, is hard.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can also call the network, previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.