“She had an electric personality. Brilliant, as far as her intelligence. Extremely responsible, very mature for her age and honestly, perfect in so many ways. As a father, it’s easy for me to say, I was so proud of her,” said Derek Schmidt, Morgan’s dad.
On April 6th, 2014, the seventh-grader at Pleasant Valley Middle School killed herself.
“We woke up on Sunday morning. and we were getting ready for church, and Morgan said she didn’t feel well, her stomach hurt,” Derek said.
Derek says he offered to stay home with Morgan, but she said “No, Dad, I’m fine, just a little bit sick.”
Derek and his wife, Christine, decided to head to Sunday services with their three other children. Morgan kissed and hugged her mom and dad.
When the family returned that morning, they found Morgan’s lifeless body in the house.
They say there were no signs she had been struggling emotionally, no clues she was in trouble.
“It’s something that torments Christine and I every day as parents. What did we miss? What could we have done different? I honestly don’t know,” said Derek.
They later discovered Morgan had been dealing with some bullying online.
“I knew about the different sites she was on. I was a user on those sites, so I could be monitoring and watching. Did I do it everyday? No, I didn’t,” Christine said.
Her parents say the junior high drama had overwhelmed Morgan, and social media exaggerated the impact of hurtful words.
“We really need to wake people up, wake parents up. Help these kids learn or remember how to be kind to one another; challenge them to make a difference in other people’s lives,” said Christine.
In the wake of their tragedy, the two have started a group called KIC, which stands for Kindness is Contagious.
“I’m trying to get into the schools working and talking to children. We need a wake-up call in this community. We need a dialogue, to bring that education and support into the schools, into our homes, into our families, so this tragedy doesn’t have to happen to other kids,” said Christine.
“It’s a call to action,” Derek said. “A call to action for parents to understand what their children are dealing with and how they’re feeling.”
Over the past year, three other young girls committed suicide in Scott County.
“I’ve seen a steady increase in kids with anxiety disorder, depressive disorder, self-harm, suicide or attempted suicide. We have an epidemic,” said Joyce Morrison, a longtime counselor at Vera French Mental Health Center in Davenport.
Morgan’s room remains as it did the day she died, right down to the pile of stuffed animals in one corner.
“I cry every single day. I sit on her bed every single day. That’s what I have to do,” said her mom.
The Schmidts are sharing their story to encourage parents to be vigilant and monitor the social media activity of their kids, and to never underestimate the power of bullying and the potential torment of social media.
“She was clearly dealing with internal struggles, and we firmly believe she didn’t want to burden her family and friends,” said Christine. “If it could happen to Morgan, it could happen to anyone.”
“In our case, there weren’t evident signs,” said Derek. “Her grades were good, she appeared very happy and engaged. But the call to parents is: Don’t assume. They’re dealing with a different set of social pressures that we never had to deal with.”