A 10-year-old boy found hanging in an Evanston school restroom had threatened to take his life, sources said today, underscoring experts' warnings to take cries for help seriously even from the very young.
Scolded by a teacher, Aquan Lewis responded with a threat to kill himself the same day his body was discovered, said sources familiar with the investigation.
The 5th grader hanged himself Tuesday afternoon by his shirt collar on a hook in an Oakton Elementary School restroom stall where a footprint was found on a toilet, a source said.
Aquan of the 8600 block of Trumbull Avenue in Skokie died early Wednesday, hours after he was found unresponsive in the boys restroom. The Cook County medical examiner's office ruled the death a suicide by hanging.
The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is investigating, spokesman Kendall Marlowe said, adding the department had no prior contact with the family or the school.
Relatives, coaches and family friends struggled to make sense of the child's death even as some questioned whether Aquan -- a boy with a ready smile and a love for football -- would take his life.
"My baby did not kill himself," his mother, Angel Marshall, said as she left the school in tears Wednesday afternoon. "You all need to get in that school and look at that stall."
The family hired an attorney to help obtain more information from authorities about how the death occurred.
Evanston police Cmdr. Tom Guenther described the matter as an ongoing "death investigation."
It was unclear whether the teacher relayed the boy's reported suicide threat to other school personnel. Evanston-Skokie School District 65 spokeswoman Pat Markham declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation. All teachers and staff are trained annually in suicide, neglect and abuse prevention, she said.
Child advocates and mental health experts said Aquan's death reaffirmed the need for school personnel to learn how to spot warning signs in children who may be contemplating suicide.
"This underscores the need for teachers and school administrators and anyone who works with kids to pay attention to what children tell them," said Ronald Davidson, a faculty member in the University of Illinois at Chicago's department of psychiatry.
Child suicides are "very rare" and do not usually occur in a public place like a school, said Dr. Paula Clayton of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
Nationally, three dozen children between ages 9 and 11 committed suicide in 2005, the most recent data available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. None of those was in Illinois.
Oakton parent Tasha Oliver, 27, said she cannot understand how a 10-year-old could commit suicide without any warning signs.
"That's actually scary, that he's 10 and that would happen," Oliver said as she waited outside the school for her three children.
Aquan had completed his first season of tackle football. At a little more than 80 pounds, he was assigned to the flyweights squad of Evanston Junior Wildkit Football. Coach Tracey Wallace put him on offense after Aquan kept asking to run the football.
He got his chance during the final home game against a Northbrook squad in October. He caught a pass and ran about 50 yards before he was tackled near the end zone. "He laid there for a minute. It wasn't that he was injured, but he was so sad he didn't score a touchdown," Wallace said. "He had the potential . . . not only as a citizen, but as an athlete, he had the potential."
Tribune reporters Lisa Black, Ofelia Casillas, Jeff Long, Susan Kuczka and Tara Malone contributed to this report. Freelance reporter Brian Cox also contributed.
--Emily S. Achenbaum, Kristen Kridel and Jeremy Gorner