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Family blames 11-year-old girl's suicide on cruel kids

Eleven-year-old Celina Okwuone kissed her parents good night last week and then hanged herself in her bedroom closet, driven to despair by the cruelty of her fifth-grade classmates, her family said Thursday.

By the time her parents forced their way into her room, at about 11:30 p.m. on May 20, it was too late. The bright little girl who liked bubbly pop songs, serial novels and TV musicals dangled lifelessly from a belt tied to a metal shelf.

She left behind a series of dark and disturbing diary entries and, on her cellphone, a string of text messages from children who jeered at her weight or her taste in music or labeled her "ugly," "blacky" or "b----."

Dr. Celestine Okwuone, a physician with staff privileges at Lawnwood Regional Medical Center and Heart Institute, and his wife, Ileana, described their daughter as a sensitive and vibrant child who wanted nothing more than to fit in.

Instead, the parents said in a statement Thursday, Celina endured the ridicule and scorn of other students at St. Anastasia Catholic School in Fort Pierce until it became too much for her.

The statement was circulated just after Port St. Lucie police announced that bullying, as defined by Florida statutes, played no part in the girl's death. Florida law defines bullying as "systematically and chronically inflicting physical hurt or psychological distress on one or more students."

"We know that harm was done, whether it can be proven in a court of law or not," the parents said. "We called our daughter Celina our supernova, our shining star. She was vibrant and active and so wanting to be liked."

Flipping through Celina's diary, detectives found a sketch of a hanged figure visited by the Grim Reaper and a poem Celina wrote about ending her life, police spokesman Tom Nichols said. Heaven, one entry suggested, would be a better place for her than Earth.

Celina also told at least two friends of a desire to hang herself, Nichols said. But after reading her diary and the text messages and interviewing her family, friends, neighbors, teachers and fellow students, investigators concluded that no laws were broken.

"A thorough investigation did not indicate any evidence of bullying," said Nichols, who described the text messages as "cruel" but not criminal.

Celina's parents said they were "disturbed by the police department's findings," adding that the suicide might have been prevented.

"What happened last Thursday in school, and then that night over the phone, with text messages, and online - also what led up to that night over the past two years was nothing short of bullying," they said, noting they had brought concerns repeatedly to Celina's teachers and principal. "Nothing can ever bring our daughter back, but we can make changes. Parents need to speak up, not fear that talking will make it worse."

In a statement issued last week on St. Anastasia's behalf, the Diocese of Palm Beach said the school was mourning for Celina. "We ask for continued prayers for the student's family as well as the entire community during this difficult time of loss," the statement said.

Celina's parents called on the school to "take a more active approach to bad behavior" before describing their life as a "living hell."

"We love you," the parents said. "We will miss you forever until our hearts no longer beat. Please, God, let no other child suffer like our little girl."