HOWARD COUNTY, Mo. — A wave of attention has come crashing down on a rural Missouri county after
Kenny Suttner, 17, tragically took his own life in December of 2016. A county coroner made a rare move by calling for a jury inquest into the Glasgow teen’s suicide, a Fayette Dairy Queen manager is facing charges and a local school district is accused of negligence in preventing bullying which allegedly caused Kenneth to take his own life. Click below to hear the edited Newsmaker interview by KMZU’s Brian Lock with Special Prosecutor April Wilson, who was recently appointed by Howard County Prosecuting Attorney Stephen Murrell to take on the case.
Wilson was tapped by Murrell to lead the prosecution team hours before he submitted his resignation to Gov. Eric Greitens. Ms. Wilson said she understood that he stepped aside because of a potential conflict of interest, going on to say, “in these small, rural counties you come across the same people”. Wilson has experience as a special prosecutor in the past, including a murder case in Randolph County. Murrell will step down effective February 17.
The initial request was filed on January 31, 2016 by Howard County Coroner Flask Flaspohler, who found that there was sufficient evidence for a jury inquest into Kenneth’s death. That jury inquest, which saw
testimony from more than 20 witnesses and heard multiple pages of Kenny’s suicide notes read aloud, found that the Glasgow School District followed policies and procedures but was negligent in preventing bullying.
It also found that Harley Branham, the Glasgow teen’s former manager at the Dairy Queen where he worked, acted with criminal negligence by allegedly bullying and humiliating the teen repeatedly at work. She has been charged with involuntary manslaughter in the second degree, due to negligence. The charges against Branham are why the case has caught the eyes and ears of so many onlookers. Suicide deaths are usually handled in a delicate, quiet manner. However, not in this case. Wilson said that bullying has become a real problem for teens, and that there has been a spike in suicides across northern Missouri in the past year. She said that accountability is needed. “I just want justice for Kenny,” she told me. “His voice needs to be heard.”
The case is zeroing in on a real issue though: in 2013, suicide was the second leading cause of death for young people in Missouri aged 10-24. It comes in second only to accidental fatal injury. The rate is on the rise and some seem to be ignoring the issue. Kenneth Suttner’s case could tread into uncharted waters, however. Legal questions are being asked now about how bullying Kenny experienced at his school and place of employment directly caused him to take his own life.
This case could set a precedent for bullying and suicides – it is extremely rare for charges to be brought in a suicide case. Wilson says “[Kenny’s] voice could be the leading voice in looking at how we change laws and
policies and how we address this issue. But it certainly could. Of course, she [Branham] is innocent until proven guilty.” Some are questioning whether the coroner acted maliciously or out of step by calling the jury inquest, including the Glasgow School District.
In a statement released on their website early this month, the Glasgow School District said of Mr. Flaspohler, “in an apparent attempt to justify his actions, [he] made statements about the District and its staff that he knows to be false.” Mr. Flaspohler said he believed there was sufficient evidence that the district did follow their policies and procedures, but that the policies were not enough and that the District had been negligent in preventing bullying. The inquest jury called to investigate the case agreed.
The statement on the Glasgow School District’s website went on to say that “[the jury] reached this conclusion in spite of the total lack of any evidence that any District employee had been told by the deceased student that he had been bullied.” Ms. Wilson said that the District’s only policy was a form that anyone could fill out and submit anonymously about being bullied, and that it had only been implemented in the fall semester of 2016, only a couple of months before Kenny’s death.
Bullying is difficult for anyone to manage, whether you’re a parent, sibling, or victim of someone else’s aggression and negativity. Knowing, however, that it gets better and that growth can come through adversity could save you or a loved one’s life one day. Suicide is 100% preventable and an open heart and ears could make a huge difference. If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, help is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week confidentially and free of charge from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
This is the first part in a 3-part Newsmaker series presented by KMZU News. In Part 2, a Brookfield mother shares the story of her son’s suicide and Part 3 features a conversation with mental health professionals about getting help and preventative measures.