SYCAMORE – Those who knew Billy West called him “Bro” and say he stuck up for everyone around him.
Will, Billy’s dad, said he thinks he carried others’ pain in the end. After Billy took his own life June 13, his mother, Jennifer, said she wants to let those who are bullied over social media know they can reach out and talk about their experiences.
To this end, and to honor Billy’s memory, Jennifer said she is in talks with Sycamore School District 427 to create a scholarship in his name, not to raise awareness about bullying in particular, but to remind people that they can talk about their abuse.
Bullying has gotten worse with the emergence and proliferation of social media. Of the 84% of adolescents who use Facebook, 30% have reported being cyber-bullied, according to a survey published in Education and Information Technologies in 2016. The same survey shows that only 18% told a parent or school official about the abuse.
Jennifer said she wants to see that change.
“There’s not a stigma on it now, and if there is, shame on them for putting it there because people are dying, and they shouldn’t be,” she said.
‘He was goofy’
It was a cool summer day in the West family’s backyard, where friends and relatives gathered to plant flowers in a garden to remember Billy. Jennifer sat on a shaded porch swing and remembered what a joy her son was to be around.
He liked bowling, playing “Fortnite” on Xbox One, skateboarding, watching movies with his grandma, playing with his dog, Sheila, and cat, Izzie.
His sister, Xailia, 19, remembers him as a goofy kid.
Billy had a learning disability that affected his writing, Jennifer said. He could read what was on the board in class, but had trouble using his fine motor skills. However, his interests were numerous.
Billy wanted to join the Army or become a game warden. He often went fishing with his dad, Will, with whom he learned about conservation.
“We would watch the game warden shows on TV a lot, but I honestly think the only reason he wanted to do that was to give my fishing buddies a hard time,” Will said.
Rachel McLillion, 15, a friend of Billy’s, said he was a blast to be around, especially in the lunch room.
“I’ve known him almost all my life, and he always had such a good imagination,” McLillion said.
‘He thought of everyone as equal’
Billy was bullied in middle school, but the bullying was not so bad in high school, at least not in the physical walls of the building, Jennifer said. But whereas the bullying used to stop with the bell, now after-school bullying could continue online.
“It’s a very different time now than it was when we were 15,” Jennifer said. “But with social media it’s not like that. It’s so in your face. You never have a break.”
Despite his own troubles, Billy always helped out the people who weren’t able to help themselves, Jennifer said.
“In the beginning, it was him getting picked on, and at the end of that, he was the one that was kind of defending the other kids,” Jennifer said. “Billy became everything we wanted him to be; we just didn’t know it.”
McLillion said Billy would stick up for her a lot when they were younger and she was being picked on by another kid.
She said Billy opened up to her about depression and mental illness in eighth grade and freshman year, but stopped talking about it in his final few months.
“He was really quiet about his struggles and everything, which I think it should be known,” McLillion said. “People should open up more about that kind of stuff.”
Jennifer said the warning signs such as depression were not there for Billy.
“When I did ask at first when he was getting bullied, I’d ask, ‘Are you OK? How are you feeling?’ ” Jennifer said.
He always said he was OK.