A New Jersey 12-year-old who often spoke of being bullied by classmates was told by school officials to hug her tormentors as an attempt at reconciliation. But a few months later, she took her own life.
The family of Mallory Grossman, a former student of Copeland Middle School, is pressing charges against the Rockaway Township Board of Education and the township itself for failing to properly address bullying the 12-year-old had been facing before killing herself.
"The school, it was an epic fail on their part," Mallory's mom, Dianne Grossman, told InsideEdition.com. "They are responsible. They have blood on their hands and I think that’s the true basis of what this lawsuit is — to hold them responsible for the role that they played."
Officials at the Rockaway Township Board of Education, including Superintendent Dr. Greg Gann, who resigned following Mallory's death, has not responded to multiple requests by InsideEdition.com for comment.
The mom of four said she remembered Mallory, her youngest, as an "all-American girl" who loved climbing trees, riding her bike, and playing outside.
While Dianne said there had been instances here or there when Mallory would come home upset, she explained the bullying really escalated when she started the sixth grade, in the fall of 2016.
"Bullying is really about the escalation," Dianne said. "They really just started to up their game with physically going after her, with tapping her chair, calling her a b**** in the hallways — you know, just name calling regularly. Going after her body style, those types of things."
She continued, "Like every mom, you tell your kids just let it roll off your back […] Mallory, you don’t have to be friends with those girls, just ignore them. When they started to attack her character and go after her, that’s when I really started going to the school and asking them to take care of this."
But, the school was "dismissive," Dianne said, adding that their efforts focused on bringing Mallory and her bullies together, which drew even more attention to her and left her even more embarrassed.
"They made them hug it out in one of the scenarios, which of course, Mallory started to cry," her mom said. "From the beginning, the school’s solutions were just barbaric in my opinion."
Mallory’s grades started to slip, and Dianne said each time she went to school administration, her daughter felt more and more isolated from her classmates, especially when she felt there were no consequences for her bullies.
"In the school place, we put the responsibility on the victim to solve their [own] problems," Dianne said. "Those girls should have been removed, they should have been reprimanded and it should have been clear, if you want to stay in this school, you’re going to stop that behavior."
Just before summer vacation, on the evening of June 14, 2017, Mallory’s dad Seth Grossman found her in their home, dead by suicide.
When Dianne got the call, she said she was in shock. She recalled attempting to drive home to New Jersey from New York City, a journey that can take up to two hours during rush hour.
“He didn’t tell me that she had died, he told me she had hurt herself, and I remember hearing him say, ‘The paramedics are working on her, get home fast,'" she said. "I remember just wanting to be in a flying car, just getting there as fast as I can. I just remember thinking, praying, that she’s in a coma, because I felt I could fix that."
She explained the hardest part about coming to terms with her daughter’s death was wondering what her life could have been.
“It’s an incomplete feeling because I wanted to raise her. I wanted to see her go to her first dance, have her first kiss, have her first boyfriend. What would her children be like? What type of business would she own?” Dianne wondered. "I wasn’t done being her mom.”
Nearly a year after her daughter’s death, she and her husband are bringing a lawsuit against the school in the hopes of setting a precedent, urging schools around the country to intervene in bullying cases before it's too late.
“[Kids] have a right to a successful learning environment, and I hope this is a wake-up call for all school systems to recognize that you are responsible for the emotional learning, as well as the academic learning," she said.
If they win the lawsuit, Dianne explained she plans to put some of the money toward Mallory’s Army, a non-profit she founded shortly after her daughter’s death to build a system in schools around the country to prevent bullying.
“I think schools need a helping hand," she said. "We believe that an enrichment programs, infusing a kindness based philosophy in everything they do at school, gym class [that emphasizes] team bonding."
She also hopes each chapter of Mallory’s Army will also intervene and intermediate if families believe their children’s reports of bullying are going ignored.
"There has to be accountability," Dianne said.
To learn more about Mallory’s Army, visit their Facebook page.