As investigators continue to probe the circumstances leading up to the suicide of a 15-year-old Connecticut boy whose family says he was bullied for years, justice for the tormented teen could come in the form of a civil lawsuit or even criminal charges, police and a local attorney said.
Bart Palosz died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Byram on Aug. 27 after the first day of classes at Greenwich High School. The former Boy Scout enjoyed video games and volunteered at a local library, but relatives and friends said the sophomore was bullied for his large, 6-foot-3-inch stature and Polish accent since moving to Connecticut from his homeland while in elementary school. The boy’s suicide — and subsequent social media pages mocking his death — have rocked the wealthy enclave, once again reopening the social issue of bullying in schools.
But a local law enforcement authority told FoxNews.com Palosz's death is also being treated as a police matter.
“I realize that this is a very important topic in which many parts of the community have a great interest in the outcome of our investigation but I cannot comment right now,” Greenwich Police Department Lt. Kraig Gray wrote FoxNews.com in an email late Thursday. “There are a few pieces of the investigation that have yet to be concluded that may or may not be helpful. We hope to wrap it up … soon. Bottom line, we are still investigating.”
Gray declined to specifically address whether investigators have identified any students who may have previously bullied Palosz or if potential charges being considered include hate crimes. Greenwich Public Schools officials and the state’s Division of Criminal Justice declined comment, referring all inquiries to police.
"What does it say about our society that someone sees that online and they don’t call for help?”
- Ross Ellis, Stomp Out Bullying
A local attorney with no connection to the case, meanwhile, told FoxNews.com that Palosz’s relatives may have a civil lawsuit on grounds of negligence on their hands if school officials were informed of Palosz’s alleged bullying and did nothing to stop it.
“What did the school know about this? What did the parents or the student himself bring to the attention of the school, and then what did they do in an effort to protect this child?” said Richard Hastings, partner of Hastings, Cohan & Walsh in Ridgefield. “Based upon those facts, it would be up to a civil attorney to determine whether or not they feel there would be a case of negligence against the school.”
If the alleged acts of bullying occurred multiple times, any potential civil lawsuit would be strengthened, Hastings said.
“But again, it’s fact specific,” he continued. “Was this an isolated incident, or did it happen every day?”
Lisa Johnson, whose 13-year-old son, Izzy, was Palosz’s close friend, said the “awkward” teen had been bullied for years before killing himself with a shotgun that was stored in a gun locker inside the family's home, according to police.
"He always was kind of awkward in his body and kind of clumsy and how he carried himself," Johnson told the Connecticut Post last month. "He didn't exude confidence, but he was a total sweetheart of a guy. But kids never appreciated that."
Palosz, an active social media user, posted violent, sometime suicidal thoughts on his accounts in the days preceding his death.
"Hey if I were to stab my eye out due to school caused insanity, who would miss me?" Palosz reportedly wrote on Google+ on July 3 alongside a photo of himself holding the tip of a knife to his pupil.
Four days later, Palosz posted a goodbye note on the social network.
"I have chosen to go with 3 peoples advice and kill myself," he wrote July 7 after telling his friends on the network that he had swallowed pills. "I just wish it was faster."
Palosz’s 18-year-old sister, Beata, who declined to comment when reached by FoxNews.com, told The Connecticut Post last month that relatives had no clue to her brother’s pain until police directed the family to his social media account.
"We had no idea," she told the newspaper. "He didn't show us any signs. He was going through that teenage age where everything had to be his way. It had to be his way. But it wasn't anything that I didn't go through myself when I was his age.
"I would look at his computer sometimes because he left it unlocked sometimes and to check on him I would read his email. He was talking about happy things. It seemed like he had friends to talk to. I didn't think I needed to look further."
In a cruel, ironic twist, hackers later used Facebook pages to mock Palosz, posting offensive images on a memorial page for the troubled teenager. Tara Church, a Greenwich High School graduate, said she initially ignored the posts but later reported the hacked page to Facebook. The page was ultimately shut down late Wednesday.
Hundreds of mourners gathered at a prayer vigil late Tuesday for Palosz, including his father, Franciszek, who did not speak and recently returned from Poland. The boy’s mother, Anna, did not attend and remains in Poland, Greenwich Time reported.
Chris Winters, headmaster of Greenwich High School, also shared his condolences, according to the newspaper.
"I regret that I don't speak your beautiful language or understand it and that I only partially understand your culture," he said. "I know there is a lot of pain, a lot of sadness and a lot of anger in each of our hearts. I can assure you that at Greenwich High School the same feelings rest in each of our students, our staff. We're in a lot of pain. We're struggling to understand."
Ross Ellis, founder/CEO of Stomp Out Bullying, a national group dedicated to the bullying epidemic, spoke Thursday at a Board of Selectmen meeting in Greenwich at the request of Selectman Drew Marzullo. Ellis told FoxNews.com during an interview early Friday that she believes bullying “definitely exacerbated” Palosz’s death.
“This whole story is so tragic,” Ellis said. “The kid had a Google+ page and clearly on his page, he was planning his death. Somebody should have stepped forth and helped this kid. He was obviously in so much pain.”
Ellis said she was shocked that someone close to Palosz didn’t act after seeing those concerning posts.
“Any human being who saw that Google+ page should’ve called Google, police, somebody,” she said. “You don’t know if it’s real or not, but you have to assume it’s real. What does it say about our society that someone sees that online and they don’t call for help?”