Central Regional H.S. Students Charged Criminally After NJ Teen Suicide, Protests Over Bullying Concerns
BERKELEY — Community members continue to protest what they say is a failed response to bullying after a 14-year-old took her own life days after a videotaped in-school assault was shared to social media.
Adriana Kuch was repeatedly hit by a group of other students inside Central Regional High School.
After previously declining to discuss the situation due to juveniles being involved, Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley Billhimer on Saturday confirmed to the Associated Press that four high school students were facing charges.
One teen was charged with aggravated assault, two were charged with conspiracy to commit aggravated assault and the fourth was charged with harassment.
All four were released to their families, pending future court appearances.
The Central Regional High School Superintendent resigned over the weekend after the Daily Mail published his responses to questions about the teen fight and subsequent suicide, in which he said the teen had a troubled history and downplayed potential accusations of bullying.
‘Adriana's story isn't the only one at Central Regional School District’ says local mom
“Please know that Adriana's story isn't the only one at Central Regional School District, it happens in the high school and the middle school and a lot of things are made quiet,” a parent from the district wrote in a Facebook blog on Sunday.
The mother, who writes under “Mama's Rants from the heart,” said that after the parents of a boy came forward to report his being bullied by students this year, “the administrator wanted to know what he had done to egg on his bully?”
“This kind of response is not OK," she said. "As I understand that in some cases kids do tease one another, it's when it becomes relentless that leads to awful consequences. This should have never happened.”
A student walk-out on Wednesday was followed by another attempted student demonstration on Thursday, according to local residents.
On Friday, there was a student protest at Veterans Park next to Central Regional, followed by a balloon release and vigil on Saturday.
There were also unconfirmed reports that parents from the community were planning a guardian-specific protest near the school this coming Wednesday.
The school previously posted a message to its website that any protests would have to be "properly organized adjacent to school property, while school is in session."
State officials mourn Adriana as ‘latest victim of the mental health and wellness crisis’
On Monday, state officials issued a joint statement of sympathy.
“Adriana Kuch is the latest victim of the mental health and wellness crisis that has resulted in so much pain and loss for countless youth and their families, friends, and communities," they said.
They cited a rise in youth suicide, up more than 16% among 10- to 24-year-olds between 2018 and 2021, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“To the adults who live and work with our young people, we urge you to lead with empathy and kindness and to support the youth in your lives who may be struggling with hidden burdens they feel are too heavy to carry," Acting Education Commissioner Angelica Allen-McMillan and Department of Children and Families Commissioner Christine Norbut Beyer said in the statement.
"To everyone, please know that suicide is never the answer."
They also shared state resources for mental wellness, with no mention of the Central Regional bullying accusations.
“Through the Children's System of Care, parents can call 1-877-652-7624 to access mental health services or addiction treatment services for children and teens under the age of 21, or services for children and teens up to age 21 with intellectual and developmental disabilities.”
Youth and young adults between the ages of 10 and 24 can call or text the 2ND FLOOR youth helpline at 888-222-2228, for round-the-clock services.
Past case: After girl's suicide, no charges in Rockaway amid bullying allegations
In 2017, 12-year-old Mallory Grossman took her own life in Rockaway, after her family said she had endured intense bullying.
School district administrators and school board members slammed claims that they had "ignored the Grossman family,” or “failed to address bullying in general” as “categorically false.”
The following year, Morris County Prosecutor Frederic Knapp said there would be no charges against any juveniles in town.
"At the conclusion of a thorough investigation by law enforcement personnel, it was determined that charges were not warranted," Knapp said, adding "As prescribed by law, since this matter concerns juveniles there will no further comment by this office."
Two things did happen in the wake of Mallory Grossman’s suicide — Mallory’s Law and Mallory’s Army.
Her mother, Dianne Grossman, has become an anti-bullying advocate, whose activism helped push through a law signed last year by Gov. Phil Murphy.
It requires school districts to include in anti-bullying policies the specific consequences for a student harassing, intimidating or bullying a schoolmate.
The law also requires superintendents to provide the local school board with data on the number of reports that met the statutory definition of bullying.
Following Adriana Kuch’s death, Grossman reacted with comments on the Mallory’s Army Facebook page.
“Yes, I am aware of this story. I’m heart broken & outraged … I’m sharing… because this is 100% an example of how “bullying” is overlooked… It wasn’t a “school fight” it was gang-like behavior. 10-day suspension aka 10 days of vacation.”
Wall High School locker room hazing accusations, charges
In January 2022, Monmouth County prosecutors filed juvenile criminal complaints against an unspecified number of students following an investigation into a series of locker room hazing incidents at Wall Township High School in September and October 2021, involving the football team.
Two months later, six football players facing juvenile hazing and sexual contact charges were sentenced to community service.
If they kept their records clean, the rest of the charges would be dropped within a year.
Sayreville High School football player hazing arrests, allegations
In 2014, Sayreville dealt with an explosive similar hazing scandal, as seven high school football players were accused of locker room sexual assault activities.
Two of the teenagers were found not guilty on the most serious charges they faced in connection with the locker room incident, NJ.com reported.
Glen Ridge high school football players sexual assault of special needs teen
A harrowing case unfolded in 1989 involving several male teens in Glen Ridge who were charged with sexually assaulting a 17-year-old special needs girl in the basement of a house.
In that case, three of the young men were convicted of sexually assaulting the victim, while a fourth was convicted of conspiracy.
Anyone experiencing suicidal thoughts or mental health-related distress can also dial 988 to connect to the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.