'Fitting tribute': Students to play piece composed for bullied teen who took his own life

Meredith Willse
York Dispatch

Five years ago, bullied 14-year-old Bryan Doll Jr. took his own life. On Thursday, April 13, students at his former middle school in Hanover will debut "Compassion," a piece composed in the boy's memory.

The song will be performed at 7:30 p.m. at Emory H. Markle Middle School, 225 Bowman Road, Hanover, during the school orchestra's spring concert. 

Bryan was a goofball with big smiles and laughter. 

“He was a character,” his mother, Jessica Fortino Doll, said. “He always loved to make people laugh.”

Bryan Doll Jr.

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She said he would get curious when he saw something new and would try to figure out how to perfect it, such as when he saw someone else playing on a skateboard. Bryan spent two weeks in the family backyard trying to figure out the same tricks. 

“He was very smart, but he was an old soul,” Doll said. 

When he was 12, he figured out how to shut down his grandmother’s computer. His grandmother, Claire Fortino, was in another room when he hacked her laptop and shut it down a few times. Fortino realized what was happening when she heard him giggling from another room. 

“I got you, Nina,” she recalled him saying. 

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He also had a lot of compassion, Fortino said. He helped his classmates when they were being bullied, even though he was a victim of bullying himself. 

On Feb. 3, 2018, he committed suicide, which was thought to be because of the bullying he endured. 

When it happened, Jessica Doll was angry but turned that into something good in his name. 

“It doesn’t get easier,” she said. “It’s been five years and it’s still just as hard today.”

The community gathered around the family. They raised money quickly. Shortly after Bryan's death, Doll and her friend, Dawn Bosley, created the nonprofit Be the Change to stop bullying in Bryan’s name. Through the organization, Bosley and Doll go to various places, such as middle schools, to teach about bullying and mental health. 

The family also created the Bryan Doll Jr. Memorial Fund, which they closed last year, around the time he would have graduated. Doll said they had about $10,000 in the account at one point. The family has been donating to various causes over the years that Bryan would have been interested in. 

A December 2017 photograph of the late Bryan Doll Jr., 14, second row center frame, with the Emory H. Markle Middle School orchestra, is shared during an interview with Jessica Fortino Doll in Penn Township, Wednesday, March 29, 2023. Doll’s son  died by suicide in 2018. Dawn J. Sagert photo
The first page of sheet music for the song, “Compassion,” a song commissioned by Emory H. Markle Middle School orchestra director Larry Kuntz in memory of Bryan T. Doll Jr.,  created by composer Rossano Galante, is shown during an interview in Penn Township, Wednesday, March 29, 2023. Doll’s son Bryan Doll, 14, died by suicide in 2018. The song will debut during the middle school’s spring orchestra concert April 13. Dawn J. Sagert photo

“Anything that would have interested Bryan is what interested us,” Fortino said. 

Last year, when the family closed out the account, they approached Larry Kuntz, the middle school’s director of orchestra studies, looking for ways to donate to the orchestra because Bryan was a musician. He played drums and taught himself how to play the piano. 

Kuntz, who was a confidant of Bryan’s, said the teenager was a “fine violinist.”

The teacher gave the family a list of ways to donate, but they settled on hiring composer Rossano Galante to write the song, “Compassion” in Bryan’s name. 

Fortino said the name is fitting, “because he had a lot of that.”

Kuntz said the song is about 4½ minutes long, a little longer than the average songs performed in middle school. It has a lot of emotion and expression, he said. 

From left, Claire Fortino, Jessica Fortino Doll and family friend Dawn Bosley, all of Penn Township, are photographed following an interview in Penn Township, Wednesday, March 29, 2023. Fortino Doll’s son, Fortino’s grandson, Bryan Doll Jr., 14, died by suicide in 2018. Fortino holds a photograph of her son and her late father, Fortino’s husband, Michael Fortino, who died a year later. The three represent the the nonprofit group Be the Change, founded by Bosley after Bryan’s death. Bosley’s son is friends with Fortino Doll’s son, Matthew. Dawn J. Sagert photo

It is also more advanced than what middle schoolers typically play and should impress many people, Kuntz said. He added Bryan would have enjoyed this song because it requires shifting hands to more advanced positions, which he enjoyed doing. 

“It's going to be a very fitting tribute,” Kuntz said, adding it has a melody that can easily be whistled or hummed. 

Doll has mixed emotions over the song but thinks it is great. 

“Overwhelmed, I guess is the best feeling I could say to have the continued support,” she said. “People are still trying to continue to bring his name out and talk about it.”

After it is published, other orchestras can buy the composition to learn about Bryan and share the message. 

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“That is the compassion and the sadness of the whole situation,” Fortino said about the message. 

While Galante conducts the orchestra, Kuntz will be on stage playing violin, as will Bryan’s youngest sibling, 12-year-old Hallie, who will be using her brother’s violin. 

Usually, before the orchestra performs a song, a student will explain something about the song. This time, Hallie plans to share her brother’s memory. 

— Reach Meredith Willse at mwillse@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @MeredithWillse.