Family of New Jersey girl, 14, bullied to suicide alleges school failed to act

Jocelyn Walters endured 'extended and persistent pattern of harassment, intimidation, bullying and abuse,' family says

This story discusses suicide. If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Jocelyn Walters, a 14-year-old New Jersey tri-athlete and huge fan of The Smashing Pumpkins, died by suicide on Sept. 9, 2022 after enduring months of harassment and bullying from her peers.

Now, Jocelyn's parents, Fred and Solangie "Soly" Walters, are suing the Middletown Township School District, the school board and other defendants — including Jocelyn's teachers and nurses at a local mental health clinic — for allegedly failing to take appropriate action to prevent the 14-year-old from taking her own life.

The lawsuit also lists 10 John and Jane Does "who harassed, intimidated, bullied and/or otherwise abused Jocelyn" as defendants.

"Jocelyn was the student that you wanted. She was the teammate that you wanted. The player that you wanted. She was always there. First one on the field. Last one off," Fred Walters told Fox News Digital.


Jocelyn Walters wearing a Smashing Pumpkins t-shirt

Jocelyn Walters died by suicide on Sept. 9, 2022, at age 14. (Family handout)

By the time she entered high school in 2021, Jocelyn had dreams of going on to study law at Notre Dame, but those dreams were cut short when she fell victim to intense bullying and harassment by other students, in person and online.

"Jocelyn’s death by suicide took place after an extended and persistent pattern of harassment, intimidation, bullying and abuse directed against her that took place during, and following, the 2021/2022 school year at the High School," the complaint states. "The repeated pattern of … abuse occurred despite ongoing and repeated complaints of same made by the Plaintiffs, and others, to the Board/District and Board Defendants."


Jocelyn Walters wearing her soccer uniform

Jocelyn Walters was a star soccer goalie for her travel soccer team in New Jersey. (Family handout)

The lawsuit alleges that one bully in particular, identified only as J.M., tormented Jocelyn by sharing her personal information, making fun of her on private social media webpages, removed Jocelyn from group chats, cropped her face out of photos posted on social media and attempted to isolate her from her friends and boyfriend.

"The High School, the Board/District and the Board Defendants were aware of this conduct and did nothing to protect Jocelyn from harm," the complaint says.


Jocelyn Walters playing soccer

Jocelyn Walters was a tri-athlete and star goalie on her travel soccer team. (Family handout)

Fred Walters said he hosted sleepovers with Jocelyn's bullies, who were once her friends, under his own roof before they allegedly began tormenting his daughter.

"This group of kids actually slept in my house between Christmas and New Year's," he explained, "and somewhere in January, from what I understand, there might have been some sort of text exchange … in a group chat, and then this girl just seemed to want to push her out. And what I understood before, and even more so after, was this seemed to be this girl's M.O."


Fred Walters alleged that J.M. made Jocelyn feel comfortable confessing things to her and being vulnerable before she turned on Jocelyn and tried to isolate her from their mutual group of friends.

Jocelyn Walters poses in front of a butterfly mural

Jocelyn Walters had dreams of studying at Notre Dame and becoming a lawyer. (Family handout)

Jocelyn first tried to take her own life in May 2022, months before her death. She was hospitalized and treated after the initial attempt. 

'I’m honestly going to try and keep instigating her…'"

— Text from Jocelyn's alleged bully

"Even while Jocelyn was in the hospital … J.M. posted in a group chat the following day regarding Jocelyn: ‘I wonder if she’s going to do anything back . . . I’m honestly going to try and keep instigating her until she actually does something to me that I can get her in trouble for,'" the complaint alleges.


The lawsuit further claims that in August 2022, after her hospitalization, Jocelyn was referred to a nurse at a mental health clinic who "negligently doubled Jocelyn’s antidepressant medication without knowing the dosage she was taking" and "failed to notify Jocelyn's parents of her emergent condition."

Jocelyn Walters and her father, Fred Walters

A lawsuit filed by Jocelyn Walter's parents states that the 14-year-old girl was subjected to relentless bullying that school officials did nothing to stop. (Family handout)

On the day before and the day of her death, Jocelyn also reported to the school nurse, "who failed to take appropriate action given Jocelyn’s history and further failed to alert Jocelyn’s parents of this/these visits," the complaint alleges.

"Hours later, on September 9, 2022, Jocelyn took her own life," the lawsuit states. "Immediately thereafter, J.M. texted the following regarding Jocelyn’s death: ‘[s]he died stop making controversy about it.’"


Jocelyn Walters holds up a Jersey at a soccer stadium

The day before and the day of her death, Jocelyn Walters reported to the school nurse, her family's lawsuit alleges. (Family handout)

Jocelyn's family alleges that Jocelyn, her sister, her parents and her friends all reported the bullying that Jocelyn was enduring in and outside school, but their concerns went ignored. School officials allegedly did nothing to punish the students who participated in the harassment that led up to Jocelyn's suicide.

Following Jocelyn's death, on Oct. 26, 2022, Middletown High School North sent her parents a letter acknowledging that Jocelyn "may have been a victim of an act of" bullying, and the school launched an investigation into those allegations.

"[T]he District did not find any evidence that Jocelyn was the target of the investigated act of harassment, intimidation, or bullying."

— Letter from Middletown High School North to the Walters

"After careful consideration of evidence yielded from the investigation, the District did not find any evidence that Jocelyn was the target of the investigated act of harassment, intimidation, or bullying," the letter states.


Walters' lawyer, Jeffrey Youngman, told Fox News Digital that bullying does not "just go away unless you apply the proper form of discipline."

"Children react to discipline," he said. "It's a personal deterrent, and it's a broader deterrent. But if you're not administering … that discipline at all, it's just going to foster their behavior. And that's what happened here. Nobody was disciplined."

The day Jocelyn died started out like any typical school day. Fred Walters dropped his two daughters off at school that morning and went to work. After school, Jocelyn's sister went to see a show at a concert venue with her friend, but Walters could not get a hold of Jocelyn despite calling and texting her.

An older photo of Jocelyn Walters.

An older photo of Jocelyn Walters. (Family handout)

He figured she might be taking a nap in her room due to her busy schedule with sports and her job on the local beach boardwalk. She had also been experiencing some fatigue due to her increase in medication. However, when Fred Walters opened her bedroom door that afternoon, he found her deceased.

"I felt that that medication was a very, very big component."

"That is an image that I work very hard to get out and … from the very beginning, I felt that that medication was a very, very big component," he said.

The lawsuit notes that while the national suicide rate among people ages 10-24 saw no significant change between 2001 and 2007, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recorded a 62% increase in suicide for that age group between 2007 and 2021. Among girls, 30% said they have seriously considered attempting suicide — up 60% from 2011, according to CDC data.

Jocelyn Walters wearing a Smashing Pumpkins t-shirt

Among girls, 30% said they have seriously considered attempting suicide — up 60% from 2011, according to CDC data. (Family handout)

The complaint also notes that "[t]he use of antidepressants in children and adolescents has increased substantially since 2005, despite the lack of convincing evidence that the benefits outweigh the risks and treatment-emergent suicidality remains a major concern."

The school board and district said they do not comment on pending litigation. 

The board introduced a cellphone ban in district schools on June 26, citing studies that show an increase in students' academic performance, a significant decrease in suicidal ideation, fewer harassment and bullying incidents and better socialization when their cellphones are not accessible throughout the day.

An older photo of Jocelyn Walters playing soccer

Jocelyn Walters playing soccer when she was younger. (Family handout)

An attorney for the school district and school board, Eric Harrison, said they "intend to respond to these claims solely through the legal process."

Fred Walters feels there were failures "every step of the way" that led to Jocelyn's death.

"I'm fighting for my daughter, but through this, I just see so many fail

"These girls start doing what they did and pushing her out and trying to cancel her. And, then you've got the adults in the room that are not doing their job or following their really failed policies and politics, and their cover-your-ass paperwork," he said. "I'm fighting for my daughter, but through this, I just see so many failures … and other parents that are coming to me with their problems that haven't been addressed because it's an isolation of the parents."

Now, Walters is just hoping to keep his daughter's name and memory alive while he pursues justice. He created a nonprofit called 99 Smiles that aims to normalize the conversation about youth mental-health and expand resources.

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