October 24, 2014

Medina
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Father tells son’s story to dissuade other children from suicide

Note: This story is part of a larger piece, focusing on the effectiveness of laws and school policies surrounding the reporting of teens who may be suicidal.
• To see the main story, click here.
• For resources on who can help if you or someone you know is considering suicide, click here.
• To read about the prevalence of teen suicide in Medina County, click here.


Richard Baab doesn’t want another parent to live through his nightmare.

On Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2012, Baab went to his son’s bedroom to wake him up for school and found the boy had hanged himself.

Richard Baab

Deven had just turned 14 that Sunday.

In the first few days after his son’s death, Baab was numb with pain and anger.

“I just remember living through the day,” he said. “For a month straight I would just lay in my bed. I wouldn’t do anything.”

Since then he has become a man obsessed with re-examining every aspect leading up to his son’s death.

A week after his death, Baab wrote a 30-page journal documenting events in his son’s short life in an effort to explain the unexplainable: Why would a child want to die?

Now he is speaking out in hopes that Deven’s story might save another child’s life.

“I’m willing to do whatever I can to stop this from happening to someone else’s child,” he said during one of a series of interviews with The Gazette.

Challenges

Baab said that in most ways, Deven was like any other boy. He enjoyed playing video games, hanging out with his friends and the outdoors.

“He liked being outside, having bonfires outside, cutting trees down with an ax,” Baab said.

He liked building things out of wood. Last Christmas he made a cabinet for his mother and a stool for his half-sister.

He liked cooking, his father said.

“He was a good kid, he liked to cook his own dinners, make me breakfast — mac and cheese, scrambled eggs, bacon,” Baab said.

Baab and his son had an unusually close relationship. Baab and his wife, Janet, divorced when Deven was 2 years old.

Until he started school, the boy would stay two weeks with Baab and two weeks with his mother.

After that, Deven lived with his father and only spent weekends with his mother, who moved to Mansfield.

Baab said he wanted his son to live with him, “I just thought I would be a better parent.”

A graduate of Highland High School and the Medina County Joint Vocational School, Baab, 48, is a self-employed welder.

He said his ex-wife maintained a good relationship with Deven and she was consulted on all major decisions involving the boy.

Most of those decisions involved problems Deven faced in school.

The boy fell behind in reading and spelling in first grade and eventually was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder by his family doctor and a school psychologist.

He was placed in an individualized education plan while in elementary school in Medina.

Deven was still behind by the time he entered the sixth grade — his first year at Claggett Middle School — and the family doctor prescribed Concerta, a longer-acting version of Ritalin.

While the medication seemed to help Deven focus in class, he still struggled to get the work done, his father said.

Baab met with Kris Quallich, director of student services for the Medina district, and Chris LaVogue, the school’s psychologist, early that year. He told them he thought Deven’s individualized education plan wasn’t working, and that Deven scored low on the fifth-grade proficiency tests.

Baab said he asked that his son be allowed to repeat the fifth grade.

“I basically wanted him out,” Baab said. “I wanted him back in the elementary school. I didn’t think he could handle it academically or emotionally.”

LaVogue and Quallich persuaded Baab to keep Deven at Claggett but with possible revisions to the individualized education plan. They also recommended a psychological evaluation.

At about that time, Baab hired an advocate for Deven from the Learning Disability Association of Northeast Ohio, who helped him review and change the plan.

Bullying issues

Baab said his son faced another challenge when he started at Claggett in the fall of 2010 — falling behind in his schoolwork made Deven a target of abuse by other students.

Deven would complain to him about students on the bus referring to his small ranch-style home as “a garbage can.”

“I was in the principal’s office more the first month of school or so than I was my whole life when I was growing up,” Baab said.

In late September, Baab contacted Deven’s school bus driver, who agreed to let Deven sit in the front of the bus.

On Oct. 22, 2010, Baab got an email from Craig Komar, who was principal of Claggett, saying a female student had kicked Deven in the groin.

Baab and Deven met with Komar the following Monday.

About a week after the meeting, Deven told his father students still were harassing him at school but he asked him not to report it to the principal.

After that, Deven never mentioned any bullying.

“He would come home in a bad mood many a time, but he wouldn’t tell me about it,” Baab said. “He would say that he doesn’t like school.”

Baab said he is concerned about the pervasiveness of social media and how it can fuel bullying.

“It used to be, you get bullied at school, you went home, at least you could forget about it, and the next day, all is forgotten,” he said. “But now, pictures of it are on the Internet, or on Facebook.”

Baab said he thought Deven seemed happier when he was “grounded” and didn’t have access to his phone and computer.

“So many things that probably happened to him that I had no idea,” Baab said.

Over the next two years, Baab said his son continued to struggle to complete all his schoolwork but didn’t complain about being bullied.

But Baab said he hoped the situation was improving last fall when Deven started the eighth grade at Claggett.

Deven was completing all his work and his grades had improved, even though he had stopped taking Concerta. Baab said he decided to take Deven off the drug because of concerns his son was not gaining weight when taking the medication.

Signs of trouble

The first indication that something was wrong came in early October, when Baab went to his son’s room to tell him it was time for bed. He couldn’t find him.

In a panic, he called Deven’s phone. No answer. Finally Baab sent him a text message, saying he would call the police if he didn’t answer. Deven replied with a message saying he ran away.

After finding out where Deven was from a girlfriend, the father brought him home.

Baab said he yelled at his son, saying it was the first time Deven had seen him so upset.

Baab told his son he couldn’t stand the thought of losing him.

“Man, I didn’t realize that you cared,” the father remembered Deven saying.

“You’re all I have,” he responded.

About that same time, Baab said he got a call from the father of Deven’s girlfriend, who reported Deven had been telling other students that his father was beating him.

He asked Deven why he did it, but didn’t get a clear answer.

Because Deven was doing better in school, Baab said he was surprised to get a phone call in mid-October from Claggett’s counselor, Julia Schwendeman.

She told Baab that Deven had made some superficial cuts on his wrists and was showing them to other students at recess.

“He had used an X-ACTO blade from the shop class,” Baab said.

Baab said he didn’t take any drastic action and his son promised not to do it again.

“I didn’t want to exacerbate it, make him more depressed,” he said.

Baab investigated getting behavioral counseling for his son. But he said he had trouble finding a counseling service that would accept both his and his ex-wife’s health insurance, and the earliest available appointment wasn’t until mid-December.

On Oct. 31, Schwendeman called to say that Deven had continued to show self-inflicted cuts to other students and told one of his teachers that he “wouldn’t be around much longer.”

Baab met with Schwendeman and the teacher that afternoon.

During the meeting, Baab said he told Deven “that I loved him very much. I said, ‘I don’t want you to feel this way.’ I said, ‘I need you to talk to me.’ ”

Schwendeman later told police investigating the child’s suicide that both she and the teacher “were encouraged by the Baabs’ openness with each other,” according the police report.

Baab took Deven to Akron Children’s Hospital immediately after the meeting.

‘Your son doesn’t want to hurt himself’

At the hospital, Deven was interviewed and Babb recalled that the doctor told him: “Mr. Baab, I’ve evaluated Deven, he seems just fine, and I wanted to let you know that you can sleep easy tonight. Your son doesn’t want to hurt himself.”

Deven told the doctor the cutting was because of “stress and drama” and not a suicide attempt, according to hospital records obtained by Medina police.
The boy said the main cause of his stress was “people not liking me because I’m different.”

Hospital officials recommended a “partial hospitalization program,” where he would have a tutor at the hospital and therapy during the day, or outpatient counseling.

At home that night, Baab begged his son to open up to him. He asked Deven why he was doing these things.

“I’m sick of nobody liking me anymore,” Deven said.

Baab said he responded by displaying even more affection to his son.

“I would just pour it on. I poured it on every day,” he said. “After he would get home from the bus, I would give him a big hug, tell him how proud I was, and I loved him very much.”

The next day, Schwendeman called Baab to ask how the hospital visit went. Baab said he made it very clear to her that he wanted to hear about any incidents involving Deven and that he would take him to the hospital if there was another one.

“I did explain to her, the very next time Deven says or does anything, he’s going to Akron Children’s,” he said.

That’s why Baab said he was so angry that no one from Claggett called him after Kimberly Mahoney, the mother of one of Deven’s friends, called the school on the Friday before his death. Mahoney had said that Deven had sent her son text messages stating he was going to kill himself.

“I would have taken him to Akron Children’s on Friday,” Baab said. “He would probably still be alive.”

Contact reporter Kiera Manion-Fischer at (330) 721-4049 or kfischer@medina-gazette.com.