No kid deserves this: Son’s final days before death
THE flame of a lit candle flickers next to a framed school photograph of teenager Josh Coad in the living room of a grieving Huon Valley family's home.
It is a poignant and ever-present reminder of his life, which tragically ended on October 28 last year when Josh died by suicide, aged just 14.
It left his parents Brad and Kristy, younger sister Taylah and his extended family devastated, searching for answers and forced to come to terms with an unfathomable reality.
They have now had to endure their first Christmas without Josh - the boy they describe as fun-loving, energetic and impulsive, yet sensitive and camera-shy.
He was an information technology whiz - his parents saying teachers said he probably knew more about the subject than they did - and loved music, the outdoors and his pet cat, Tiger.
"He was very jovial,'' Brad said. "Especially when he was younger, he was the kid running around in the supermarket.
"He was energetic, the loudest kid in the classroom."
Kristy said Josh had a great sense of humour.
"He loved a joke, but he was sensitive at the same time,'' she said.
"He sort of wore his heart on his sleeve."
But Josh, who would have been starting Year 9 this week, will, sadly never have the opportunity to realise his full potential.
Speaking at their rural home, Brad and Kristy grasp each other's hands and fight back tears as they speak about their son and urge people to be kind to one another.
They say Josh was the victim of relentless bullying and two vicious physical assaults at Huonville High School.
Josh's parents make it clear they do not blame anyone in particular for their son's death, but say the toll of bullying weighed heavily on him.
They explain how their much-loved son urged them not to make a fuss after the first assault in June - a day before his 14th birthday.
Josh had been coward-punched in the head during a fire drill on school grounds - the incident captured on the school's CCTV cameras.
"He didn't want me to go to the police because he thought it would make it worse,'' Kristy said.
"I guess then I started to get a little bit of a picture that more was going on. He said 'oh, they do this, they follow us around'.
"I didn't realise at the time just how much that was going on. The school rang me and said they had suspended the child involved, and that was sort of how that was dealt with.
"It was just before the end of term (in mid-September), the same thing happened. Josh was targeted again. He was waiting at the bus stop and was hit again."
It was this incident that prompted the parents to make a report to police, leading to a mediation meeting which included the alleged bully, his parents, Josh's mother and a mediator.
Josh, who was becoming increasingly fearful, did not attend. He found the very thought of mediation with his alleged attacker traumatising.
And his parents say it ultimately did little to stem the constant bullying.
"I told this young boy that he wasn't a bad kid and that you can't fix problems with violence,'' Kristy said.
"He did (apologise) and at the time it did seem sincere but now looking back, I don't think it was.
"Now one of Josh's friends is also getting targeted ... It's thuggery. They just walk around looking for people to bash."
Josh's parents said their son was not a fighter - it wasn't in his nature - but that he reached a breaking point due to the constant bullying.
Brad questioned why the alleged bully was not punished further.
In the weeks and months leading up to his passing, Josh was also becoming anxious - even locking the car door for short periods - including one example when his father left the vehicle to go to a nearby ATM.
He was worried about security, kept his devices on flight mode and was conscious of having his photo taken.
The day before his death, he attended his great-grandmother's funeral, and later went to the beach with his cousins.
There is a photo of Josh smiling, which was taken that night.
Josh's parents say their son could be impulsive and moody, but believed the same could be said for many teens.
They claim the school did not do enough to protect Josh and believe there needs to be greater mental health support for students in the public education system.
"I want to be a voice for Josh. We can't help him, but we might be able to help somebody else, and that's why we're telling his story,'' Kristy said.
"He didn't deserve this. He was a good kid. No kid deserves this and no parent should have to go through this."
Josh's parents say they want their son's legacy to include more support for victims and a greater focus on the importance of being kind to each other.
"And if parents can just sit down and talk to their children, and for them to know it's OK to talk about your (feelings),'' she said.
Kristy praised the Huon Valley community for its support of the family amid the tragedy.
Josh's death is subject to a coronial investigation.
Education department responds
TASMANIA'S Minister for Education, and Mental Health and Wellbeing, has described the death of Huon Valley teenager Josh Coad as a tragedy.
Minister Jeremy Rockliff was responding to inquiries from the Mercury about the death of the 14-year-old, a student at Huonville High School who took his own life in October last year.
"This is an absolute tragedy, and I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to his family, friends and the local community as they grieve this terrible loss,'' Mr Rockliff said.
The Education Department did not address questions about allegations of bullying towards Josh at the school, including two reported physical assaults.
A department spokeswoman said the government was investing $81 million to support wellbeing in schools which includes 180 full-time equivalent professional support staff, including psychologists and social workers.
This also includes the reintroduction of school nurses to assist students who are experiencing stress, eating disorders and other mental health issues, in addition to $1 million over four years to deliver the SPEAK UP! Stay ChatTY schools program in government schools.
The department did not address questions about what circumstances warranted a student being expelled from a school, or whether there were full-time roles at the school specific to supporting mental health and wellbeing.
"Ensuring that our students are safe and free from bullying, harassment and discrimination is a shared responsibility between the community, parents, schools and students,'' the spokeswoman said.
"Schools are expected to develop a whole-school approach to support student behaviour and build respectful environments."
The department said schools have established support and wellbeing teams to develop strategies to address individual student needs.
Mr Rockliff said $4 million was being invested to commence the first phase of implementing the government's Response to the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services Review.
'Great courage to share story of tragedy'
THE founder of suicide prevention charity SPEAK UP! Stay ChatTY has praised a Huon Valley family for their bravery in speaking out after their teenage son's death.
Mitch McPherson, who started the charity after his younger brother Ty took his own life in 2013, said he was contacted by Josh Coad's family after the 14-year-old's death in October last year.
Josh's mother Kristy Coad visited Mr McPherson with a financial donation to SPEAK UP! Stay ChatTY after collecting donations at Josh's funeral in lieu of flowers.
"Those moments are really sad for me, when I meet someone that has lost a loved one, and it's bittersweet when they fundraise money for us,'' Mr McPherson said.
"Not everyone likes to be open about their grief which is fine, and I think it takes great courage to share your story of tragedy, but I believe it can raise awareness to a really important topic and better the lives of others."
Mr McPherson said being kind to one another was a simple yet meaningful thing people could do in the course of their everyday lives.
"The smallest of gestures can go a really long way,'' he said.
"Holding doors, smiling, saying nice things. They are easy to do and can make a massive difference.
"Children are watching and soaking up everything that adults do, so if we can show them kindness and empathy, they are values they will uphold as an adult."
Mr McPherson said SPEAK UP! Stay ChatTY had a high school mental health program promoting kindness and supporting one another.
Originally published as No kid deserves this: Son's final days before death