Every night before going to sleep, Skylar Desmarais would find her grandmother in the home they shared in Manchester, New Hampshire.
The 11-year-old would tell her grandmother that she loved her, giving her a hug and a kiss.
She never missed a night.
“Even if she was away with somebody she would call me and say, ‘I love you, Grammy,’” Teri Desmarais said of her granddaughter.
It was one of several rituals the 11-year-old shared with her grandmother, with whom she’d lived since she was 2. They watched “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” together each evening, bringing their dinner trays into the living room, taping episodes to save for later when they couldn’t watch it side-by-side.
Skylar loved Christmas, so they started watching holiday movies in October and cranked up the carols on the radio in the car as soon as they hit the airwaves.
“If it was too hot out, we’d turn the air conditioner on in the car, so it was nice and cold to listen to Christmas music and just sing at the top of our lungs,” Desmarais said. “People would think we were crazy, but it’s OK. It was fun. It was our thing.”
July Fourth was another favorite holiday. Desmarais and her granddaughter would scout the listings of the fireworks displays in the paper and would drive between the surrounding towns, going to up to four different shows surrounding the holiday.
This year, Desmarais stayed home. She said she just couldn’t go see the fireworks without her granddaughter.
Skylar took her own life weeks before, on June 20, after struggling daily with depression and anxiety that her family says stemmed from severe verbal and cyberbullying by classmates at school.
“I just want her back,” Desmarais said. “I don’t know how to live without her.”
‘She was the type of child that wanted everyone to be happy’
Skylar seemed to have easily made friends until within the last year and a half, her grandmother said.
“She really started to have a hard time,” Desmarais said of the 11-year-old. “She never wanted to get anyone in trouble. She was the type of child that wanted everyone to be happy and she would make sure they were happy even if it was her pain that was inside. She couldn’t let people know that, she had to make them happy all the time.”
The bullying started in the middle of this past school year, while Skylar was attending Parker-Varney Elementary School, according to Desmarais. After the family moved within the city, the 11-year-old was given the choice between continuing at Parker-Varney or transfering to Highland-Goffe’s Falls Elementary School, which she did. Skylar’s father, Michael Desmarais, suggested that maybe a new school would a good chance to start over, her grandmother said.
“It was worse,” Desmarais said.
She saw her granddaughter, who loved drama class and singing, become more and more withdrawn.
“She wanted to stay in her room more and draw,” Desmarais said. “That’s how she vented — she drew — and the pictures she drew started getting more dark. She’s always gone to therapy, so I asked her, I said, ‘Sky, what’s going on?’ And she said, ‘Nothing, Grammy. Everything’s fine.’ And I could just see it wasn’t.’”
The Manchester woman said one day she noticed marks from self-harm on her granddaughter’s arms. Skylar eventually told her how bad the bullying was, but she wouldn’t tell her the names of the classmates.
“She has always just been loving, caring, never said the word ‘hate’ to anyone in her life,” Desmarais said. “Never said it to anyone or about anything.”
The 11-year-old didn’t want her classmates to get into trouble, her grandmother said.
“Skylar didn’t want to tell me a lot of stuff, but one of things that was brought out was some kids on the bus and at school said, ‘If I had a face like Sklyar Desmarais, I’d kill myself,’” the grandmother said.
Once it was in her brain, Desmarais said her granddaughter couldn’t forget it.
Separate of the bullying, the 11-year-old and her family had already had a difficult year. Last June, Desmarais said one her sons, Skylar’s uncle, died of a drug overdose in their basement. In October, Desmarais’s father, who lived in the two-family home they occupied, died of cancer.
“She had these two major losses, too, within a very short amount of time,” Desmarais said. “I’m having a hard time dealing with it, and I’m an adult. I can’t even imagine a child having to deal with this.”
Desmarais said she had begun the process of signing custody of Skylar back to her son, Michael Desmarais. The 11-year-old was excited about going to live with her father and his fiancee, Hope Shafer, in Pittsfield.
The Manchester School District told Boston.com it could not answer specific questions about the bullying Skylar’s family says she experienced:
Our whole community is grieving over the tragic death of one of our Highland-Goffe’s Falls students and we feel for the family who is struggling with this unimaginable loss. Out of respect for the privacy of our students and their families, and to comply with both state and federal law, we cannot provide a specific response to comments about the student being a victim of bullying. We have an exceptionally caring and dedicated staff working to ensure that services are in place for the students in our community. Suicide is a complex issue and research informs us that one issue rarely results in a suicide death, rather it is often a combination of factors. Our focus remains on healing and caring for the students, staff and community impacted by this tragedy.
By the end of the school year, Skylar had attempted suicide twice, her grandmother said. At school, she was accompanied by an adult because she’d tried to harm herself there.
But still, Desmarais said, the bullying continued.
‘I need this bullying to stop’
Skylar finished fifth grade.
Desmarais said her granddaughter was happy about graduating elementary school and was happy that she would be moving to Pittsfield to live with her dad, her stepmother, and half brother. The last day of school was June 15, and Skylar planned to attend camp at the end of June.
On June 20, Skylar was found by a family member at her father’s home. Desmarais said a letter left behind spoke of the bullying the 11-year-old experienced during the school year.
“I need this bullying to stop. I need it for her sake,” she said of her granddaughter’s death. “I don’t want her to have left this world for no reason at all.”
Desmarais said she and her family believe Skylar was “put on this Earth for a short time to teach us love, forgiveness, and caring.”
“She was a unique child. She beat to her own drum, which everybody should be able to,” she added.
The family plans to set up a memorial fund in Skylar’s name to combat and raise awareness about bullying. Desmarais said she also plans to work to get more accountability in schools for reporting on incidents of bullying.
“I just want everyone — not to remember her death — but remember her life,” Desmarais said of her granddaughter. “Remember her smile every time she saw somebody, remember the hugs she used to give. Remember the loving, caring child. That’s what I want people to remember.”