WENDELL, N.C. (WNCN) – A grieving family has an urgent message tonight after the death of a Wake County middle school student died on Tuesday.
Austin Pendergrass’s mother said her son dealt with bullying and died by suicide.
Tuesday, the principal of Wendell Middle School sent students home early due to a “medical crisis,” and later notified families about Pendergrass’ death.
Clutching balloons and flowers, and wearing his favorite color, red Wednesday night, Austin Pendergrass’ family and friends clung to each other, and their memories, as they gathered for a vigil at a Knightdale park.
“Austin, he was so, so smart; he was so sweet. He’d always come to the car when I pulled up. ‘Mom you need help bringing anything in?'” his mother, Jessica Pendergrass, recalled.
“Austin’s like family to me,” added Jalia Harris, a family friend. “I looked at him like a little cousin, a little brother.”
Austin played in the band, liked telling jokes and had a heart for animals.
“He loved sea turtles,” his mother said. “He used to say ‘don’t use straws because they’re bad for the turtles’.”
His mom also said, for the past couple of years, Austin dealt with bullying.
This week, she confirmed her son took his own life. He was 13.
“He was just so young,” Austin’s sister Haylie Pendergrass said. “He had his whole life ahead of him.”
“While this is the worst possible thing I can imagine, I just want to tell parents ‘check on your kids’,” Jessica said. “The signs were there but the bullying, it was so bad. Just teach your kids to be kind because kids can be so cruel.”
It’s a message his family hopes others will hear, so no one else feels their unbearable pain.
“If your child, your brother, or your sister — whoever — if they’re showing any signs of anything, please get them help” Haylie said. “Please listen to them no matter what they say.”
If you are feeling hopeless or need someone to talk to, you can always reach the Suicide and Crisis lifeline at 988.