Two men share personal experiences with bullying

JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - Bullying is destructive. It can leave your child in tears or worse. And many times they're reluctant to tell you what's going on. As parents, we send our children to school to get a good education and make friends. But when a bully enters the picture, it can make a child's life a living nightmare. The scars can run deep and last a lifetime.

The shoving and taunting you often see in public service announcements drive home that bullying happens and it hurts. Like many parents, Jeff LeMarr has watched videos like that, but he never took them seriously.

"I never paid attention to it. But now it has really opened my eyes, because it has hit close to home," said LeMarr.

LeMarr said his 12-year-old daughter was beaten up by another girl.

"She had red spots, some bruising on her middle left hand side, her right knee swelled up just a little bit," said LeMarr.

It happened April 25th, as his daughter was walking home from a bus stop.

"There's another girl that got off with her. She was being instigated on the bus asking my daughter if she wanted to fight, 'Hey! Let's fight.' And when they got off the bus, she pushed her down, started kicking her, hitting her. It's infuriating," said LeMarr.

LeMarr told us it all started with some teasing and name calling.

"Then it escalated to pushing, shoving, being locked out of classrooms," he said. "It affected her school grades. It got to the point where she didn't want to go to school. She hated it."

"I was traumatized. I was really scared," said Tony Best, who said he endured the same turmoil 48 years ago.

"I missed a tremendous amount of school. I would cry the night before just until momma would let me stay home, because I was physically sick, because I was so scared," said Best.

Best said his troubles began during his freshman year at Moss Point High School. He started shop class and made instant enemies.

"There were pieces of metal we were told not to weld on. They were teaching us how to weld. And when the teacher was gone, several of the guys started welding on that piece of metal. So I thought I did the right thing, I told the teacher," said Best.

Best was labeled a snitch.

"They said, 'Best, I'm going to whip your ass after class,'" he said.

Best said the threats continued every day. He was able to avoid getting into fights, but the anxiety and stress overwhelmed him.

"Every day after class that's exactly what I'd do was get out. It got to be so bad that even the night before school, when it came time for bed, I would get a knot in my stomach knowing that when I went to sleep, the next morning, I would have to get up and face them again," he said.

"I was more like a chubby kid, which made it even worse being bullied because of that," he added.

Best went out for football and started lifting weights to gain confidence. The bullying stopped, but the pain and trauma still haunt him.

"It has followed me all through my life. I just always had a fear and it was anxiety over something that probably would never happen, but I had that fear of getting into a fight," said Best.

Best believes the bullying drove him to alcohol.

"When they're threatening to whip you, it makes you scared inside. It turns your insides out and you're just miserable. So when you get alcohol or something like that, it seems to calm you down," said Best.

Best has turned his pain into hope for others. After working as a police officer, security director, and law enforcement chaplain, he now counsels people who are battling drug and alcohol problems.

"I know now I was allowed to go through those situations so now, I can help others," said Best.

And he sends this message to all bullies: "They need to stop and think about that they're doing, and they're causing problems that can last a lifetime."

Jeff LeMarr said since the attack by the bus stop, his daughter hasn't had any more problems with bullying. He and his wife have met with the school principal and teachers to come up with a plan to protect their child.

"So far, we've been happy with the way they handled it now," said LeMarr. "It is scary. Before this happened, you see it on TV, people being bullied and you think, 'Oh, it doesn't affect me.' But when it does happen to your child, then you start seeing it everywhere."

According to a national survey, in 2010, about 20 percent of high school students reported being bullied at school. Mississippi's anti-bullying law went into effect that same year. It requires every school district in the state to adopt a policy addressing bullying or harassing behavior, and setting up a system to report and investigate abuse.

The following is a list of resources for anyone who is being bullied, or knows of a child being bullied.

Bay-Waveland School District
(228) 467-6621

Biloxi School District
(228) 435-6105

Greene County School District
(601) 394-2364

Gulfport School District
(228) 865-4600

Hancock County School District
(228) 255-0376

Harrison County School District
(228) 539-6500

Jackson County School District
(228) 826-1757

Long Beach School District
(228) 864-1146

Moss Point School District
(228) 475-4558

Ocean Springs School District
(228) 875-7706

Pascagoula School District
(228) 938-6491

Stone County School District
(601) 928-7247

"Mississippi Anti-Bullying Laws & Policies"

Bullying can affect you in many ways. If you are feeling hopeless or helpless or know someone that is, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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