Teenage tragedy: Suicides spark new fight against bullying

In a FOX 32 special report: teenage tragedy.

Family and friends are sharing their heartbreaking stories after a high school sophomore took his own life. We take a look at why teen suicides are on the rise, and what schools and parents are doing about it.

Bullying and suicide: two topics tough for teenagers to tackle. But some students are, and for good reason.

Suicides among Illinois tweens and teens have skyrocketed in the past decade, with 67 suicides in 2008, compared to nearly double that in 2017.

Several local teens took their lives just last year, including Max Bennett, who died four months ago.

“I saw a note on the table, and the note said - mom and dad, if you're reading this note it's because I'm dead in the backyard. I turned on the light and he was back there. I couldn't believe it,” said Patricia Bennett, Max’s mom.

Just a half mile from Max's high school are signs of a family still in mourning. The pain is still fresh, with the one question that continues to come up: "why?"

“It's my job to keep him safe and to stand up for him. I'm his dad. If he would have just said something, I would have done anything for him,” said Eli Bennett, Max’s dad.

“He's my little brother, I've got to protect him. The fact that I couldn't protect him this time was kind of hard,” said Eli Jr., Max’s brother.

On the surface, Max was your typical teenager with plenty of friends. But underneath, there was a hidden pain that few saw.

“Every time when we saw him, he always had a smile. He always made people laugh no matter how he felt,” said Natalia Palazzolo.

“I don't think Max really understood that he was cared for, even though he had literally so many friends,” said Stefania Petrovic.

“He thought that a lot of people didn't value him, and I know that's definitely wrong,” said Lina Castaneda.

“It's been really rough because we were so close. I used to live down the street and we used to hang out all the time,” said Ethan West-Keyes.

Classmates and family members believe bullying is what drove Max to take his own life.

“People kind of teased him a lot, especially the older ones,” Stefania said.

Bullying is front and center for today's teens, only made worse in the digital age.

“Social media is also taking a part in bullying and stuff. Bullying is, I definitely feel like, a big problem. Even little things, calling somebody a simple name, could completely ruin their day,” said Klaudia Biegunska.

So what's a student, parent and a school supposed to do to stop a tragedy like this? The school says supporting students, staff and families continues to be a top priority, and a board policy prevents and responds to bullying.

Meanwhile, Max's family and friends have a strong message.

“The epidemic will never finish and never stop until the kids come out like today and really say how they feel,” Eli said.

“Parents, everybody has to take it more seriously. Because something like this could happen, and that's when people start realizing that it's, like, a serious problem,” Klaudia said.

“A smile and a wave can make someone's life different, can make a day different. And it's literally the truth,” Stefania said.

And with that message, the memory of a life gone too soon.

“He was very caring. He was a very good listener,” said Jen Bennett, Max’s sister.

“He always cared about others, before himself. So he had a good heart. So that's how I want him remembered,” Patricia said.