A father in southern Minnesota says words -- simple, hurtful words -- killed his 13-year-old daughter, and now he's speaking out against the bullying his child endured at school and through social media after she took her own life on Saturday.
"These words killed my daughter," said Rick Ehmke. "I'll go to my grave believing that."
For months, Rachel Ehmke was bullied at Mantorville Middle School. Though experts say there's seldom just one reason for teen suicide, but this victim's parents were engaged with the school over a known problem.
In fact, the school first told her parents that the 7th grade student was being bullied last fall.
"They called her all these names. They vandalized her locker -- smeared it full of gum, chewed gum," said Rick Ehmke. "Put it in all her books."
Though she was outgoing, athletic and had many good friends, she was also bullied by a pack of girls that called her a slut and a prostitute even though she had never kissed a boy.
"She shared with us that she was being called these kinds of names," Rick Ehmke said.
After she reported the bullying, Rick Ehmke said his daughter kept telling them everything was fine -- even when it wasn't.
Ehmke's parents thought the bullying had been resolved -- until the principal called on Friday to say a whole new group of bullies were bothering her.
"That, apparently, set her off," Rick Ehmke said. "Back into 'get mom and dad into it.' Based on last time, all it did is make people angrier."
On Saturday night, Ehmke hung herself in her room. There was no suicide note, but her family found a note card where she had written "I'm fine = I wish you knew how I really felt," along with a picture of a broken heart.
"I wish she could've," Rick Ehmke said. "I don't think we'd be sitting here if she could've."
Word of her suicide spread quickly through the tiny town, and even faster on Twitter and Facebook as some of Rachel Ehmke's friends made posts retaliating to the bullies. But Rick Ehmke said he doesn't blame the school, the kids or even the Internet.
"They're good kids that made some bad choices," he said. "Truly, if they ever thought she'd do something like this, they'd never do it."
Instead, he only wants to share his profound loss now that he won't see his daughter swim again in the pond she loved. He will never pick out a dress for prom, or for a wedding.
"I'll never understand, but I need to figure out how to go through life without my daughter," he said.
If there is one thing that angers him, however, he said his stomach turned when he searched his daughter's Internet browsing history and found she had visited a site offering tips on how to take your life -- even a discussion group where someone gave her advice.