SANTA ANA, CA - An investigation has been launched into whether a 10-year-old girl who apparently killed herself at a home in Santa Ana was the victim of bullying, officials said Tuesday.
Officers responded to the residence after the child was discovered dead by her 9-year-old sister on Sunday night, according to Santa Ana Police Department Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.
Her death appeared to be a suicide, Bertagna said. He added that to his knowledge, she did not leave a note.
Family identified the girl as Allison Wendel. Her cousin, Bonnie Mesinas, said the death came as a shock.
“She was a beautiful little girl full of happiness, and she was always smiling,” Mesinas told KTLA.
Detectives are working with the Orange County coroner's office to determine what led up to the child's death.
“As part of that investigation, we have heard the rumors that there may have been some bullying involved," Bertagna told KTLA. "Obviously we need to investigate that. At this point, we don’t know what happened.”
Wendel was a student at Hazard Elementary School in Santa Ana, and the Garden Grove Unified School District is assisting in the investigation. A moment of silence was held at the district's board meeting Tuesday.
Investigators will look into Wendel's electronic devices and social media, and also interview her friends to determine if she was bullied.
Students at the school Tuesday told KTLA they knew Wendel and knew she was being bullied because it was posted on social media.
If bullying were a factor, Bertagna said police would have to determine who did the bullying and look at their ages to decide whether they faced any charges.
"Those are all things we would have to submit to the district attorney," he said. "Because of the age, that would be an issue."
In a statement, district officials noted its schools have longstanding positive behavior interventions and support programs, and are proactive in promoting a "positive school culture."
"Hazard Elementary, as well as the district as a whole, are committed to our district’s Goal 2, developing personal skills in students, which includes their socio-emotional wellness and a warm and welcoming climate at school," the statement read. "Recently, the district launched a Choose Wellness Campaign aimed at increasing awareness and ensuring all students, staff, and families have access to mental health and wellness support. Our district has a plethora of mental health resources and is committed to ensuring all students have a safe place to turn for emotional support."
Crisis counselors are on hand to assist students and staff, according to the statement.
A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to raise funds for Wendel's funeral and counseling for her 9-year-old sister.
Important note: If you or a loved one is feeling distressed, please remember help is available through the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. It provides free and confidential emotional support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can also call a loved one, member of the clergy or 911.