10-Year-Old Killed Himself After Being Relentlessly Bullied, Dad Says: How His Family Fights for Change

"This can't be fixed. So I have to create something to fix it for others"

<p>Courtesy of Sam Teusch</p> Sammy Teusch

Courtesy of Sam Teusch

Sammy Teusch

One Saturday earlier this month, 10-year-old Sammy Teusch was at his big brothers' soccer game when he pointed out another kid to his dad — a young student who, along with multiple others, had been relentlessly bullying Sammy, his dad says. The next morning, Sammy died by suicide.

“Sammy loved life more than anybody I’d ever known. Why did he take his own? How do I answer that question?” Sam Teusch tells PEOPLE in an emotional interview. “It makes no sense. None.”

The two weeks since Sammy was found dead in his bedroom by his 13-year-old brother Xander have been almost unbearable for his family, if not for the opportunity to stop it from happening to someone else.

“This can’t be fixed,” says Teusch, 47, a corporate director for engineering at MHG Hotels. “So I have to create something to fix it for others.”

He is asking people to sign a petition urging Congress to take up legislation to curb bullying nationwide, seen as a nearly endemic childhood problem but one that can have disastrous consequences. And he is speaking out.

“I want to talk,” Teusch says. “I think that part of the problem is that other parents that this has happened to in the past stopped talking about it. You go through this tragedy and then nobody ever talks about it again. … I think the only way the world is going to be fixed is if we fix it through the children.”

Still, he struggles to push past the sadness of his son’s death to be “positive and loving and kind.”

“How do you do that in a situation like this?” he says. “This is never, ever, ever, ever going to be positive. Never. There is nothing positive about this. … There is no positive out of this unless we make it.”

'He was a gift'

Sammy was growing up as the youngest of nine children in a blended family.

“When we met, she had three and I had two,” Teusch says of his wife, 49-year-old Nichole Teusch. 

Together they also share 13-year-old twin boys Oliver and Xander, an 11-year-old daughter, Scarlett, and their youngest, Sammy, a fourth grader who loved playing soccer, going fishing and leading his family around to gather up trash whenever they went to the beach or on a nature hike.

Sammy, ever helpful, always amazing, was “an adventurer” and a “traveler” who “loved it all,” Sam Teusch says.

“He was a gift,” he says of his son.

But in recent years, he had begun to be tormented, according to his family.

They moved to Greenfield, Indiana, in 2022 from Pensacola, Florida, and the bullying began not long after, Teusch says: “Sammy was smaller than a lot of the other kids, so it started with that.”

When other children would target his son, Teusch told him to be caring and compassionate — to think about the other kids who might not have a good home with a loving mommy and daddy. “I said, ‘Just turn the other cheek,’” his dad remembers. “I would contact the school, it would slow down for a little bit, and then ramp back up.”

After Sammy got glasses in spring 2022, the bullying got worse. He thought he’d picked out cool frames that “he absolutely loved … until he went to school the next day,” Teusch says. When Sammy got home, with his glasses clenched in his hand, “He said, ‘I’m never wearing these things again. Today was horrible,’” his dad says. “They were tearing him apart at school and on the bus.”

Teusch says that in response to the bullying, Sammy "hid under the desk. He hid in the bathroom and locked himself in and they had to go in and unlock the door. I’d talk to the school. They’re like, ‘Sammy’s a discipline problem.’ And I’m like, ‘What? Isn’t it obvious — he’s hiding under a desk and hiding in a closet and hiding in the bathroom. What’s he hiding from?’”

(The Greenfield school district referred PEOPLE to the superintendent, who did not respond to a request for comment on Monday on Sammy’s death or his family’s account of him being bullied.)

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It wasn’t just his size or his looks that the other kids went after, Sammy’s dad says. They also focused on his mom, who works as a custodian at the local middle school. “That was 100,000 times worse than calling him names,” Teusch says. “He would stand up when it came to her. 'You don't talk about my mommy.'"

At school, some of the older, bigger children called Sammy names and chased him down the hallways, his dad says. At one point, a kid cornered Sammy in a school bathroom, called his sister names and threatened to beat him up.

In another incident, a kid "took Sammy’s iPad out of his hand and hit him in the head with it as hard as he could. He broke his glasses, he cut his face, he gave him a black eye. And they kicked Sammy off the bus," Teusch says. "This was the fifth or sixth time he was in trouble for hiding or getting hit.”

His parents documented the cuts and scrapes and bumps he came home with from school, Teusch says.

“The more I talked to other kids. The more I found out: It’s scary to the kids,” he says. “Back in my day, if you had a kid picking on you, your six friends came over. Now, the kids are scared to help their other friends because they’re going to be kicked out of school and punished.”

While Teusch emphasizes that he doesn’t advocate violence, and always told his son to feel compassion and kindness and ignore the bullies, he struggles with that decision, too.

“That’s where I feel guilty. I teach my kids turn the other cheek,” he says. “I’m not just thinking about my kids. I’m still trying to teach them how to be a caring human being that is understanding and loving and giving.”

‘I’m getting you’

Sammy died on Sunday, May 5. 

The day before was when Sammy pointed out one of his regular bullies to his dad at his brother’s soccer game.

“Sammy’s like, ‘That’s him. That’s the kid,” Teusch says. He encouraged his son to stand up to the tormentor, with Teusch by his side. “I was thinking me being there would give him some stand up strength to tell the kid, ‘Leave me alone.’” He didn’t.

After the game, the family went on an outing to downtown Indianapolis, returning home for grilled hotdogs and roasted marshmallows.

“We had a blast, everybody was laughing. We were having a good time,” Teusch says.

Sammy's sister had a friend over, and the bully from the soccer game kept calling his sister’s friend’s phone and telling Sammy, “Oh, you wait until Monday. I’m getting you. I’m getting you,” his dad says. “That happened several times.”

Sammy’s older brother Xander took him to another room to play Roblox and the boys fell asleep on the couch.

The next morning at breakfast time, Teusch found Sammy lying down with his mom. He asked for pancakes, so Teusch grabbed his wallet and took Xander with him to the store.

When Teusch got home, his wife asked Xander to go get Sammy — who by then had gone up to his room — so they could call their grandmother and wish her a happy birthday.

Xander opened Sammy’s bedroom door and started screaming, according to the family. “Sammy’s dead, Sammy’s dead,” he said. “I’m not kidding, I’m not kidding, I’m not kidding.”

Even before Teusch reached his son’s room, he had called 911, he says. 

“I see Sammy and I grab him, and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, oh my God, no, no, no, no, no,’” Teusch remembers. “I started doing compressions, breathing into him, trying to get some kind of resuscitation.”

Emergency personnel then spent another 30 minutes working on Sammy and initially determined they had gotten his pulse, Teusch says. “We’re thinking, ‘Oh, thank God, thank God. But when they got him to the hospital, they worked on him for another hour and he just didn’t make it.”

Teusch did not disclose details of how Sammy ended his life, but he does want to quash any claim that his son used an unsecured gun. “This was not a firearm. I need to smash that rumor,” he says.

Greenfield’s police chief, Brian Hartman, tells PEOPLE that because the death is classified as unattended, meaning Sammy was alone, there is an open investigation “until that time that the coroner lets us know what their ruling is.”

“The coroner at this point has not completed their investigation either,” Hartman says.

“We're trying to talk to school teachers and we're trying to talk to other students and we're trying to talk to family members,” he says.

“I get choked up about it. At the end of the day, regardless [of] the reason for this, it is a sad and devastating time in our society that we actually have children that are 10 years old, younger than that, older than that, who feel that their life is that bad that they have to take their life,” Hartman says. “And it is sad that a 10-year-old even knows how to do this. And I know there's a lot of blame going around.”

‘He’s forever going to be 10’

The Teusch family buried their youngest on Wednesday. It’s the longest he’s ever been away from them.

GoFundMe was organized to help the family; to date it has raised more than $60,000.

On Mother’s Day, Sammy’s friends brought flowers to his mom, Nichole. Just two weeks earlier, Sammy and his brothers had rescued a bench that his dad was refurbishing. They had planned to all sign their names as a gift to Nichole. But the siblings wouldn’t sign without him. 

So the bench sits in their yard, beneath “Sammy’s Tree,” where he had hoped one day to build a treehouse as it grew taller. 

“I love him. He’s forever going to be 10,” Teusch says. 

As Sammy’s story spreads around the country, “There was a few thousand people in our [town] and a few million people everywhere else that loved him,” Teusch says. “A lot of those people didn’t know him, but they do now.”

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