Melissa Richardson describes her daughter as beautiful and upbeat with an infectious smile.
Payton Richardson was competitive, her mother, Melissa, said, and one of few students who enjoyed school. She tutored other students, played the french horn, and was training to possibly join the football team.
Part of her school routine became dealing with bullies, who Richardson said fed into her daughter’s decision to commit suicide on Feb. 12, 2012.
“Why was she bullied?” Richardson asked. “I don’t know and I probably won’t ever know.”
Richardson spoke in the gymnasium at Stanley-Boyd School as part of a presentation against bullying that was organized by a local Girl Scout Troop.
Following Richardson’s presentation, the audience made its way to five separate classrooms, each equipped with a professional tasked with speaking about the consequences of bullying.
The four-hour workshop Saturday was chosen by the troop as a final project to complete the Girl Scout Silver Award.
“We realized that bullying is a hot topic all around and we wanted to help prevent it from happening,” troop member Amanda Wright, 14, said.
Amanda Wright’s mother, Becky Wright, is one of two troop leaders. She said the girls went above and beyond their requirements for this project.
“They wanted to take it to the highest level,” she said. “They wanted to have a workshop for everyone.”
Amanda Wright said although bullying isn’t an issue she sees often at Stanley-Boyd Middle School, the hope is to raise more awareness about it.
“We’re really happy we came up with this, we hope everyone can learn from it,” Amanda Wright said.
Alexa Kroeplin, 13, is another member of the troop, who agrees with Amanda Wright about preventing bullying in the schools and beyond campus borders.
“We don’t want to see bullying in our community,” she said.
Richardson said it’s important for parents to teach their children about the impacts of bullying, instead of leaving it up to the schools and teachers to ensure the students are behaving responsibly.
“When does it become our teachers’ jobs to teach our children how to be respectful, well-mannered and empathetic individuals of society?” she asked. “Don’t our teachers bear enough responsibility in trying to teach our children academically?”
Richardson added that schools need to take a stronger stance against bullying, by identifying and helping to stop the behavior, but she said parents should be wary about whether children are modeling their behavior.
“As parents, remember our children learn and lead by example,” she said. “You’re children are a true reflection of what you mold them to be.”
Richardson said some parents blame the increase in bullying on social media, but Richardson said the problem is a lack of parental control.
“Would you just give your children the keys to the car and let them teach themselves to drive?” She asked. “Why do we as a society think it’s okay to just give them a cell phone or a computer with texting and internet access and allow them to run wild with it? If I couldn’t stand behind (my child), watching what she was doing, then evidently, she shouldn’t have been doing it.”
Richardson is working in tandem with Senator Timothy Cullen (D) to pass a cyber-bullying law, and will attend two hearings on the legislative floor to testify and share Payton’s story.
“We need to have a bill or law that allows the bully to be held accountable of their actions,” Richardson said. “We do have some laws now, but they’re written so vague and many schools or organizations don’t have a good understanding of when to step in and try to reprimand the bully.”
Later this year, on Aug. 31, Richardson will hold a benefit at Blue Moose to raise money for her anti-bullying campaign. Additional funds will support a scholarship to be handed out in honor of Payton.
“I have to make a positive change for Payton’s loss,” she said.