Suicide victim shielded family from 'horror' at school, cousin says

Published: Sunday, Dec. 2 2012 6:45 p.m. MST

Don Phan, left, older brother of David Phan, embraces his father, Nhuan Phan, during a press conference Sunday, Dec. 2, 2012, in Kearns. They are joined by family member Viet Dinh, right. David Phan, 14, shot and killed himself Thursday, Nov. 29, 2012, on an overpass near Bennion Junior High, where he was a student.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

KEARNS — David Q. Phan shielded his parents from "the horror and negative experiences he was facing at Bennion Junior High," a cousin told reporters Sunday prior to the boy's viewing service.

"The last few days have been an absolute living nightmare to learn he was bullied in school where he was supposed to be in a safe learning environment," said Thanh-Tung Than-Trong, reading from a statement. The 14-year-old student shot himself Thursday on an overpass leading to the school. A number of students witnessed the incident.

David was an adored son, who was beloved by his close-knit parents, older brother and large extended family, she said. "David's home life was full of support and unconditional love. His parents are devastated to have lost their young son, who rarely left their side."

David had a beautiful smile and a witty sense of humor, his cousin said. "David exuded love when his bullies showed nothing but ignorance and fear." 

The family wants to meet with Granite School District officials this week "to address issues we have with conflicting statements released by the school and the district.

"We demand to see that an effective anti-discrimination safe zone training be required for administration, faculty and staff who will be able to pass down and model this crucial knowledge to students and the entire community," she said.

Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley said Sunday that district officials welcome the opportunity to speak with the family.

"Our profound condolences go out to the family. We look forward to further discussions how we can prevent these types of incidents in the future," he said.

Than-Trong also called on David's friends, peers and community members to report bullying whenever they witness it. "The love that David taught us should leave a legacy where we unite in a common goal to eliminate bullying."

All members of the school community need to play a part in reporting incidents of bullying, Horsley said, adding that students can report bullying anonymously by telephone or text.

"The best safety and security system we have is the eyes and ears of our students," he said.

While the school district has practices and policies to deal with school bullies, it had no recent reports that David had been bullied, Horsley said. "Our biggest frustration is we have resources if we can get kids to step forward and let us know."

The boy's funeral on Tuesday will be limited to family, Than-Trong said.

David's father, Nhuan Phan, attended the briefing but said his niece would speak for the family. He wept as Than-Trong described his son and spoke of the bullying he had endured.

"Let us not deny the numerous accounts that David was a victim of serious bullying at school. Allow his family and friends the ability to heal by us all taking accountability and moving towards conversations and practices that will enable us to prevent other children from enduring this unbearable pain," Than-Trong said.

David's family has covered his funeral expenses, Than-Trong said. All memorial contributions will be used for anti-bullying education and outreach. Contributions to a foundation in memory of David can be made at any Wells Fargo Bank location.

E-mail: marjorie@desnews.com

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