Wake sheriff’s office still investigating 11-year-old’s apparent suicide attempt

mhankerson@newsobserver.comMarch 14, 2014 

— The Wake County Sheriff’s Office is still investigating what happened to 11-year-old Michael Morones, who is thought to have attempted suicide by hanging himself because of what his parents say was bullying because he liked the TV cartoon “My Little Pony.”

Michael has been in a medically induced coma since he was found unconscious in his home on Jan. 23. He is now in Levine Children’s Hospital in Charlotte for physical, neurological, and speech and auditory therapy to treat hypoxic-anoxic brain injury, caused by a lack of oxygen.

A suicide investigation may seem straightforward, but Richard Johnson, Wake County Sheriff’s Office chief of operations, said the process is similar to investigating a homicide. Investigators must gather physical evidence, question any witnesses and try to gather background information about the victim. In suicide investigations, investigators have to pay special attention to anyone who was in the immediate area of the suicide.

“Until we know exactly what we have, we handle it like a homicide,” he said.

The sheriff’s office would not comment on Michael’s specific case because he is a juvenile.

The sheriff’s office deals with only criminal matters, so the primary objective is to make sure deaths and injuries of apparent suicides were actually self-inflicted. In general, Johnson said, the sheriff’s office doesn’t investigate the cause of a suicide.

“Why a suicide happens is certainly something we deal with, but it wouldn’t be the primary objective,” he said.

Wake County Public Schools could open an investigation to look into the bullying that Michael’s parents say precipitated his attempt. But his parents, stepfather Chris Suttle and mother Tiffany Morones-Suttle, are not asking the school system to pursue an investigation to pinpoint specific students who may have bullied Michael.

Fund-raising takes off

When Michael was originally hospitalized, it was unclear whether he would make it through the night, Suttle said. Michael was heavily sedated and mostly unresponsive, said the family’s representative, Jon Lucas of Summit Philanthropy LLC in Durham.

The family wasn’t sure what kind of brain damage Michael would have when he woke up. He spent a month at WakeMed in Raleigh before moving to Charlotte with his mother.

Michael’s program will include ongoing evaluations, so there is no definite end date to his rehabilitation. Lucas said once Michael is done at Levine, though, he will go home.

Right now, Michael’s Medicaid coverage will cover all of his hospital bills, but Lucas said the family still has to consider what will happen when Michael can go home.

“There is no indication that Michael’s life expectancy has in any way been adversely affected,” Lucas said. “Consequently, Michael will have very substantial in-home medical treatment for the rest of his life.”

The family has made a small financial dent in what they anticipate they will need with the help of online fund-raisers.

After Michael was hospitalized, Suttle began reaching out to the online “brony” community for support. “Bronies” are male fans of the “My Little Pony” franchise and a name Suttle said Michael used to refer to himself.

The community responded by spreading the story to international news outlets, creating fan art of the ponies for Michael. Suttle even managed to get the voice actors of some of Michael’s favorite ponies to call him.

Online supporters also set up fund-raising efforts.

One of the largest fundraisers was through the site gofundme.com, which raised more than $72,000 among 2,674 people in one month. The fundraiser was set up “without the family’s knowledge but with their monumental appreciation,” Lucas said. Control of the site has since been turned over to the family.

Gofundme charges a 5 percent fee on each donation as well as a 2.9 percent processing fee. Users on the site can have money deposited into their bank account or have a check mailed to them.

Establishing a nonprofit

To help make sure donations make it to the family and to document the widespread support for Michael, the family established michaelmorones.org.

The website documents Michael’s time in the hospital as well as the various fundraisers happening across the country in his honor. They include a project in which participating tattoo parlors give discounted pony tattoos, sending a portion of the proceeds to the family.

The family has used some of the fund-raising money and has spent a “very small amount as necessary for expenses incidental to this tragedy,” Lucas said. He added that the Michael Morones Foundation is a nonprofit aimed at equipping youth with “necessary life skills to enjoy a successful life,” according to its mission statement.

Michael’s family is now looking to relocate in Garner, closer to extended family members, a task made difficult by the projected disabilities Michael may face.

Considering Michael’s needs, including a specialized wheelchair, in-home medical equipment and a van equipped with a lift, the fund-raising efforts still fall short, Lucas said.

Hankerson: 919-829-4826; Twitter: @easternwakenews

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