BATTLE CREEK, Mich. — Zuria Cobb worried about her 13-year-old younger brother Kaileb going back to school, she said. He was enrolled at Lakeview Middle School but had been homeschooled for the past few years.
“He’s kind of standoffish but one of the nicest kids ever,” Zuria said during a recent interview in front of Kaileb's home. “He was kind of awkward but it was like nice awkward to where you wanted to spend time with him.”
Kaileb, on the other hand, was excited about school, she said. He even showed his excitement during orientation, before the school year began.
"They took his shots and everything," Zuria said with a smile. "He asked the photo person, when they were taking it, for his school picture, he’s like 'could I do a peace sign?' And the lady was like 'no sorry you can’t.'"
When she picked Kaileb up after his first day of school, she asked him how it went. He said it was "fine" and that he made a new friend. However, he added that someone picked on him in class for biting his nails. He told the student to leave him alone.
“I was like ‘I’m proud of you, you need to stick up for yourself. It’s good that you did,” Zuria remembered saying to him. “So I thought that was the end of it.”
The following day, September 5th, she picked him up from school again. They went to Little Caesars for cheese pizza, his favorite kind, and she asked him how his second day of school went. He replied that he'd made a friend whom he sat with at lunch and didn't mention anything else. She figured school was going well.
“He seemed OK,” Zuria said. “He seemed like his normal, happy self and he was laughing if I made jokes or something.”
That was the last time Zuria saw him, she said. She dropped him off at his house and she went home. Later that night, her mom called her back-to-back-to-back and told her to come home. When she arrived, a Battle Creek police officer told her Kaileb was dead.
“When she said like ‘your brother took his life’ and had told me, I actually said to the cop, I was like ‘you’re joking right,’" Zuria recalled. “I was like 'it’s just a really bad joke.' But she’s like ‘no, I’m serious.’”
Police immediately launched an investigation. Zuria said she was grateful they did. She said in the days after his death, a few people, including parents, told her and her mom what happened before Kaileb died.
“Someone came forward as a witness and said they’d heard someone told him, they were picking on him, messing with him, and then told him that ‘you better not come back to school tomorrow,'” Zuria said.
Other people told her that it was more than just one person, she said. Battle Creek police confirmed to FOX 17 that detectives investigated Kaileb's death but that they’ve concluded that bullying was not a factor.
Zuria and her mother believe it was.
“Kaileb deserved a lot better,” she said. “He was only 13 and he should’ve lived a much longer life. I mean, I’m six years older than him and he should’ve at least lived six years longer than me.”
In honor of Kaileb, last week Zuria and her fiancé painted the school’s spirit rock located on the high school campus she said. Other schools in the area did the same with their rocks. And throughout the week, people have been stopping by Kaileb's home non-stop to hug the family.
“They brought flowers,” Zuria said. “Some people have brought meals to makes sure that we’re eating. So it’s really nice to see the Battle Creek community can be helpful [and] loving when they need to come together.”
Zuria said she and her mom appreciate the outpouring of love. They've donated Kaileb's body for organ donation and his eyes have already given someone the gift of sight, the mom said. However they want other families to learn from their tragedy, she said. They ultimately want parents and students to be aware of bullying and to speak up if they see it.
"I want people to know that no matter what you say, who you say it to, when you say it, there’s always going to be some kind of consequences whether it’s positive or negative," Zuria said. "If you’re bullying somebody there's going to be a negative consequence."
***The family set up a GoFundMe page to help with funeral costs. If you’d like to make a donation, click here.***