By Carolyn P Smith
The Brooklyn 9-year-old found hanging in his bedroom Thursday morning died of a tragic accident, his grandmother said.
Trudie Lindsey said the boy, who family and friends called “P-Nut,” was playing the “Choking Game” or “Pass-Out Challenge” on social media when he accidentally suffocated.
“It was an accident. He was playing a Facebook challenge,” Lindsey said Friday at Lovejoy Elementary School, where her grandson was a third-grade student. “He wasn’t trying to (commit suicide).”
Brooklyn Police, Illinois State Police and the St. Clair County Child Death Task Force investigated the death Thursday. Brooklyn Police Chief Thomas Jeffery said it appeared the child hanged himself.
Lindsey said the boy’s father took his son’s phone away at bedtime, but that the boy retrieved it after the others in the house fell asleep so that he could record himself doing the social media challenge.
The Belleville News-Democrat is withholding the child’s name because of his age and nature of his death.
The boy’s mother killed herself in 2012, Lindsey said, leaving her son to raise his three children on his own.
“He is a good man and a good father,” said Ronald T. Ferrell, superintendent/principal of Brooklyn School District 188. “He does everything he can for his children. He is an active parent at Lovejoy Elementary School. He is in our parent mentoring group.”
Classmates, school staff and members of the Brooklyn community gathered at Lovejoy Elementary Friday to remember the deceased child, mourn his loss and to pray. They hugged and wiped tears from their eyes as three doves were released. Later, they shouted “We love you P-Nut” as they released balloons into the sky.
The third-grader’s father attended but declined to comment.
“Everybody loved him. He was always so happy,” Lindsey said of her grandson. “I have not been able to sleep since this happened. I want to make sure my son don’t do nothing to himself.”
Lindsey cautioned parents to make themselves aware of social media games like “Pass-Out” and to monitor their children’s computer activity.
“P-Nut was like a local celebrity. Police officers gave him rides home if they saw him out,” she said.
Ferrell called P-Nut “a community baby,” and said the mood at the school was “pretty somber.” He said some neighbors referred to the boy as “Dollar King” because he liked to earn money by doing chores around the neighborhood.
“He would cut grass or do anything he could to make money for himself. He was a hustler, just a hard worker,” Ferrell said. “He always worked to have a few dollars in his pocket.
“He wanted to do what he could to help his father.”
The school superintendent had other memories of P-Nut as well, such as the time he tried to cut his own hair, only to leave a bald spot on his head. When the others in his class made fun of him, P-Nut laughed along.
Ferrel also recalled P-Nut’s excitement when he learned he had made the school’s basketball team last fall.
“I printed a list of the names of the players and posted it where everyone could see it,” he said. “P-nut would show his name off to anybody who was near the list. He was so happy he had made the team.
“He was real bubbly, energetic, extremely active. He was a normal little boy. It’s going to to be difficult for everybody.”
Rochella Smith, whose son was in P-Nut’s third-grade class, teared up as she recalled his efforts to earn money to help his father.
“He loved his daddy,” she said.
She recalled the time P-Nut tried to give her money so her son could attend a school dance with his classmates.
“He reached into his pocket and gave me two dollars,” Smith said. “Of course I gave it back, but it’s just who he was.That’s the kind of heart he had.”
Arthur Culver, superintendent of East St. Louis District 189, provided counselors to help students, like Smith’s son, through their grief, Ferrell said.
Christina Cooper, a third-grade teacher at Lovejoy Elementary, said she’s been “devastated” since another teacher at the school told her what happened on Thursday.
She said she will miss P-Nut’s smile and hugs.
“He liked to encourage people to do their best. He would always tell them they could do the things they were trying to do,” she said.
Destiny Crogier, who lives across the street from the boy’s family, said her son and P-Nut were best friends.
“He was the only child my son played with,” she said. “He was everybody’s kid. He would help pick stuff up, move stuff around and take your trash can to the front of the house before he went to school.”
She said she was stunned to learn of P-Nut’s death.
“It’s crazy,” Crogier said.
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