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Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Aquan's death a suicide, Evanston police agree

February 17, 2009

Evanston police today concurred with the Cook County Medical Examiner that the death of 10-year-old Aquan Lewis was self-inflicted and not a case of bullying that went too far.

Lewis, of Skokie, was discovered hanging by his shirt collar from a hook inside a third-floor restroom Feb. 3 by fellow students at Oakton Elementary School, 436 Ridge Ave., Evanston.

Speaking at a press briefing, Police Cmdr. Thomas Guenther said the conclusion that his death was, in fact, a suicide was based on two pieces of physical evidence as well as student interviews that the fifth-grade student had spoken of killing himself that day with other students.

Guenther said the boy was found with his Old Navy polo shirt buttoned completely to the top, "which would make a tighter ligature" and which was atypical for Aquan and other boys his age at Oakton. Moreover, the footprints on the toilet seat were consistent with a person raising himself up onto the hook, according to a forensics analysis.

Police and District 65 Superintendent Hardy Murphy refuted media reports that Aquan had spoken of killing himself that day to a teacher. Guenther said some students were aware of the boy's mental state that day, but the police investigation did not show that those threats were relayed to any adults.

School records showed the only medication the boy was taking at the time was a medication for asthma. Suicidal behavior in children is a risk associated with taking or withdrawing from some anti-depressants and drugs for attention-deficit and hyperactivity disorder.

Responding to reports that Aquan had a psychiatric history, Murphy said Aquan had contact with school support staff in the past. "This year, it appeared he was doing better and that he was not dealing with trauma or stress," Murphy said.

According to the chronology, Aquan apparently left his regular classroom on the third floor, but did not sign out, which was the teacher's method for monitoring student whereabouts.

According to Murphy, shortly thereafter, the teacher began lining up students for a gym class starting at 2:45 p.m. Police and paramedics received the call from the school at 2:57 p.m.

Todd A. Smith, the attorney for the boy's mother, Angel Marshall, said the explanations offered at the press briefing raised more questions. He indicated that, "based on what we heard today," a lawsuit is a possibility.

"It doesn't appear we are any closer to a timeline," Smith said, noting that the time window during which Aquan was missing seems to range from five to 40 minutes. "It appears he could have been on his own for as much as 40 minutes," Smith said.

"Heck, 10 minutes is an enormous amount of time for a child to be on his own in a school unsupervised, when it is the responsibility of the school to supervise him. If he had some issues that day that students were overhearing, where on earth were the adults?"

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