Mom: Bullied teen suicide victim defended others
Bryan Doll Jr. loved a challenge.
Whether he was besting his own time solving a Rubik's Cube, figuring out how to pick a lock or teaching himself to play piano, the 14-year-old found fun in learning new things, according to his mother.
Jessica Fortino Doll described her son as mischievous and a happy, goofy boy.
"It was all in good fun," she said. "If he could get you to smile or laugh or amaze you, that was his thing."
Mostly, the Emory H. Markle Intermediate School eighth-grader did what he could to help others, she said.
"He had the biggest heart," she said. "He just cared about people."
Bryan committed suicide in his Hanover home on Saturday, Feb. 3, according to York County Coroner Pam Gay. Bullying has not been ruled out as a contributing factor, she said.
Police investigating: Hanover Police Chief Chad Martin confirmed his department is looking into whether Bryan was bullied and, if so, whether that factored into Bryan's death.
Fortino Doll said she blames bullying for her son's death.
She said Bryan didn't share with her the extent to which he was bullied. She knew a little, she said, and asked him every night at dinner how school went that day.
"He would always put on his chipper face," she said. "He said things were fine."
Fortino Doll said that in the wake of Bryan's death, people have been reaching out to support her family in a number of ways.
"Thank you from the bottom of our hearts for everything — the thoughts, the prayers, the generosity, the donations," she said. "It has helped us get through this very difficult time, and I'm glad to have the community and family and friends supporting each other, not just us."
Social, involved: Bryan played bass drum in his school band and played violin in the school orchestra. He also was involved in the youth group at St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Hanover, including second-year confirmation classes, Fortino Doll said.
"He decided last year he wanted to try out for the band ... and decided he was going to carry the bass drum," she said, recalling how the slight young man "darn near fell over" the first time he tried it on.
"He was very musically inclined — he got that from his father," she said. "He was always playing something. Even when he didn't have drumsticks in his hands, he was pounding on a table or his lap."
Bryan taught himself piano and had the ability to listen to a song, then figure out how to play it on the piano, she said.
When asked, Fortino Doll acknowledged he was a gifted boy. On Instagram, Bryan described himself as a "sharp cookie."
Bryan was a voracious reader who moved on to more challenging Rubik's puzzles after learning to solve a regular Rubik's Cube in less than 40 seconds, his mom said.
The young man was a "phenomenal" older sibling to brother Matthew, 12, and sister Hallie, who is 7 years old, Fortino Doll said, and a loving family member to his parents and grandparents.
Took on bullies: Bryan was known for defending fellow students who were being bullied, according to his mother.
"He was right there ... leading the charge," she said. "It made me proud."
And while Bryan confided in his mother that he was the target of bullying in December, he subsequently told her things were improving.
"I didn't know things were continuing, and from what I'm hearing now, they were," she said. "Maybe he didn't want to burden me. Maybe he wanted to be a tough guy and take care of it on his own."
She said he was smiling and happy, had just gone to a job interview and was making plans to attend York County School of Technology, so his death came as a huge shock to her.
Bryan posted an anti-bullying meme on his Instagram account in April. Then in December, he posted that he had been bullied.
"Sometimes u just wanna disappear," he wrote, adding the bullying made him look up the number of a national suicide hotline.
Rumors: Fortino Doll said one of Bryan's schoolmates starting spreading hurtful rumors about Bryan.
"At one point, his school laptop was taken from him," she said.
Fortino Doll called the school, and the laptop ended up in the school's lost and found box that afternoon, she said.
"I'm getting bits and pieces from some of the students that he was bullied significantly," she told The York Dispatch.
Fortino Doll said some bullied students have openly sobbed as they tried to explain to her how much it meant to them that Bryan defended and befriended them.
The grieving mother said she's struggling with regrets and thinks others are as well — "what you should've done, what you could've done."
Asked what she thinks should happen to any bullies identified in the police investigation, Fortino Doll said she needs to consider it, especially since right now she's dealing with such a mix of emotions.
"To be honest, I'm not sure exactly how I feel about that," she said. "But it's probably not easy for them, either."
Overwhelmed: Fortino Doll said she was overwhelmed by the number of people who attended Bryan's viewing. They included many of Bryan's classmates as well as the classmates of younger brother Matthew.
A number of Bryan's friends from his days playing football for Baresville Elementary School also attended, she said.
"People from the community who didn't even know us came," she said, simply to let her family know they're in people's thoughts.
She said she's grateful for people who have donated to help defray funeral costs, and said the Gene Latta Ford dealership in Hanover offered to pay for all of the funeral expenses.
Owner Steve Latta said there's another business that made the offer first, so "I'm covering the balance."
He said he saw a need and wanted to help anonymously, but word got out. A call to Kenworthy Funeral Home to find out about the other donor was not returned.
Finding, offering help: For help or more information, visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline's website, suicidepreventionlifeline.org. Its toll-free hotline is 800-273-8255.
An online fundraiser to help defray funeral costs has raised more than $8,000. To donate, visit gofundme.com/bryan-doll-funeral-funds. Fortino Doll said now that it appears the funeral home bill is being paid, she hopes to donate at least some of the GoFundMe donations to suicide prevention and anti-bullying efforts.
Memorial contributions in Bryan's name may be made to Olivia’s House, 101 Baltimore St, Hanover, PA 17331, according to his obituary. Olivia's House is a grief and loss center for children and youths.
— Reach Liz Evans Scolforo at email@example.com or on Twitter at @LizScolforoYD.