⚪ The death of an 11-year-old girl in February left a Burlington County town reeling

⚪ Law enforcement said the suicide happened in the school

⚪ 2 months later, the district failed to address whether there was bullying reported

MOUNT HOLLY — The suicide of a grieving and bullied 11-year-old girl who chose to end her life in a middle school restroom is raising familiar questions about the responsibility of schools to protect students from bullying.

The dying sixth grader was found on the afternoon of Feb. 6 at F. W. Holbein School, the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office confirmed to New Jersey 101.5. She was pronounced dead two days later.

While not identified by the school district or law enforcement, an obituary and online tributes have named Felicia LoAlbo-Melendez.

Authorities do not believe foul play was involved but Felicia's mother, as well as a parent of one of her friends, say Felicia, who had recently lost her father, had been bullied.

This is at least the second suicide death of a New Jersey student this year connected to reports of bullying.

Adriana Kuch Central Regional HS suicide prompts bullying concerns, protests (Masterpeter Funeral Home Ocean Scanner News via Facebook)
NJ teen suicide prompts bullying concerns, protests (Adriana Kuch via Masterpeter Funeral Home /Ocean Scanner News via Facebook)

⚪ Death of 11-year-old came days after 14-year-old's suicide in Ocean County

Felicia's death in Burlington County came days after the high-profile suicide death of 14-year-old Adriana Kuch, a Central Regional High School student in Ocean County.

Read More: NJ high school mourns 14-year-old Bayville girl after suicide

In that case, the teen’s suicide came after a fight with other students was caught on video and shared to social media. It unleashed allegations that Kuch had been bullied repeatedly and harassed online. Four juveniles have since faced charges stemming from the fight.

The school superintendent's brash, inflammatory responses prompted him to step down — though it’s been determined he will retire rather than resign.

Mount Holly (Google Maps, U.S. Census)
Mount Holly (Google Maps, U.S. Census)

⚪ Prosecutor’s Office: Suicide in Mt. Holly school, 11-year-old alone in restroom

On Feb. 6 around 1 p.m., a Holbein School student found an 11-year-old female student passed out after she had attempted to take her life in a closed restroom stall, according to the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office.

“Help was immediately sought from staff members, and lifesaving measures were taken by school officials, police and emergency medical technicians,” the office said in response to New Jersey 101.5's questions this week.

“The student was taken by ambulance to a local hospital and then transferred to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where she was pronounced dead on Feb. 8.”

An autopsy performed by the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office concluded that the student died from complications from a suicide attempt.

An investigation into the student’s death by the Burlington County Prosecutor’s Office included a review of the school’s surveillance cameras and “determined that she was alone in the restroom when this tragic action happened.”

“The investigation further determined that no foul play was involved," prosecutors said.

The prosecutor’s office shared the results of its investigation with the student’s mother the last week of March.

Felicia LoAlbo-Melendez (courtesy Elaina LoAlbo) (2)
Felicia LoAlbo-Melendez (courtesy Elaina LoAlbo)

⚪‘I will not let her last email go unheard’: Mom says her daughter reported bullying

In a video posted to Facebook on Feb. 24, Felicia’s mother, Elaina LoAlbo shares a loving prepared tribute to her daughter.

“Felicia was a bright light who touched so many people — she was an old soul, wise beyond her short 11 years.”

LoAlbo says that in the month before her death, her daughter had sent an email proposing a “trauma club,” instead of a “drama club,” where students could “go and let out all their feelings and emotions.”

“Unfortunately, Felicia’s happy-go-lucky attitude was not enough to battle the relentless bullying she was fighting within the walls of our school," she said.

“Felicia’s last email in the week before her passing expressed to her school that her and her friends were being bullied, that laws were present to protect them, and that they were breaking the law by not taking action.”

In a conversation on Friday, Elaina LoAlbo said that she has received conflicting information on her daughter's last hours and has felt immense frustration, as she has seen evidence of a pattern of intense bullying.

The school's superintendent and school board secretary's office did not respond to requests from New Jersey 101.5 for comment as of Friday.

There are two elementary schools in the Mount Holly district — one for pre-K to 1st grade and the other for grades 2-4 — as well as F.W. Holbein Middle School with roughly 440 students in grades 5 through 8.

Mount Holly public school students then attend Rancocas Valley Regional High School, which serves students from five communities in Burlington County.

⚪ Student had recently lost her father

While the loss of a child is gut-wrenching on its own, for this Mount Holly family it came on the heels of the loss of Felicia’s father.

NJ Transit Detective Alexis "Alix" Melendez died on Jan. 25 with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, according to his obituary.

In addition to working to “protect the traveling public,” Melendez had also been part of a DEA task force since 2012, according to the NJ Transit Police, in a heartfelt memorial on Twitter.

A memorial service for Melendez was held just two days before his daughter was found unresponsive in her school.

6th grader girl suicide in school F.W. Holbein Middle School, Mount Holly (mtholly.k12.nj.us)
(mtholly.k12.nj.us) (2)

⚪ Mt. Holly mourns student without mentioning in-school suicide

A Feb. 8 letter from schools Superintendent Robert Mungo confirmed a student’s death but did not mention the suicide attempt in the building.

“Dear Mount Holly School Community: Today, we learned of the passing of one of our students. This tragic news impacts the entire school community," the letter says.

“Our priority is to provide support and direction during this extremely difficult time. We will continue to work as an administrative team alongside our Board and staff to respond to our school community’s needs.”

Mungo shared websites and phone numbers for mental health and counseling resources.

A Facebook post by the Tri-State K-9 Crisis Response Team on March 9 detailed a Celebration of Life event had been hosted for Felicia — which Elaina LoAlbo said she organized.

“In memory of their beloved classmate, friends painted rocks, wrote notes, and donated books for a future reading nook in her honor. Tri-State counts it a privilege to be invited into these situations to provide solace and comfort to our communities.”

⚪ Friend's father calls for an investigation

Seth Turner said that his daughter was a close friend of Felicia, one of the “brightest kids I have ever known" and that before her death, "my daughter confided in me that Felicia was being bullied by other members of her class."

"I failed to convey this information to any teachers or staff in time for anything to be done, and I need to apologize for this," he said, adding that he could not believe school employees did not know what was happening.

“While no response to the death of an 11-year-old girl can ever be truly adequate, our response to this tragedy so far has been pathetic,” he said during public comments at the March 15 school board meeting.

“Felicia deserves better. She deserves a full investigation, she deserves a full accounting and she deserves truth — and I hope that we can give it to her.”

⚪ Suicide is the third leading cause of death for NJ youth, ages 10 to 24

Mental health awareness and the pervasiveness of youth suicide have also been brought more into focus across the state. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between 10 and 24, according to the state Department of Children and Families.

New Jersey's peer support and suicide prevention hotline is staffed by mental health professionals and peer support specialists 24 hours a day, seven days a week, providing phone support, assessment and referral.

Anyone in crisis and in-need of immediate help can text or dial 988 or call the New Jersey Suicide Prevention Hopeline at 1-855-654-6735. There also is a chat option on the website.

Erin Vogt is a reporter and anchor for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach her at erin.vogt@townsquaremedia.com

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