Westside Union School District Supt. Regina Rossall holds back her emotions… (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles…)
Classmates and administrators at a Palmdale middle school struggled Tuesday to make sense of the death of a 13-year-old boy with the "million-dollar smile" who apparently left a suicide note before his body was found at a restaurant 20 miles outside town.
Authorities said it appeared that the youth — who was new to the school and despondent over his recent suspension — killed himself.
The boy's father alerted authorities Monday when he found a suicide note in his son's room and discovered his gun was missing, Los Angeles County sheriff's officials said. A gun was found near Nigel Hardy's body, a Kern County sheriff's official said.
"Our hearts are with the parents and family of Nigel Hardy as they deal with this tremendous personal loss," Regina Rossall, Westside Union School District's superintendent, said in a statement.
At Hillview Middle School, grief counselors tended to sobbing boys and girls, who hugged and consoled one another in the main office Tuesday.
Principal Robert Garza said the school is devastated about what happened to the youth, who began attending the school about 12 weeks ago after moving from out of state. Garza said he had a good relationship with the boy and his mother.
Although he could not comment specifically on any disciplinary actions taken against Nigel, Garza said the school had handled the situation appropriately. Students are suspended after repeated incidents and other disciplinary methods are exhausted, Rossall said.
The school will hold a community meeting next week to discuss the event and examine school and district policy.
"He was a great kid," Garza said. "Million-dollar smile."
One of Nigel's best friends, though, said the teenager was not always as sunny as he seemed, and felt stung by the harassment he endured for his participation in a cheerleading group.
"He was a happy kid," said the seventh-grader, who described himself as Nigel's best friend. "But they used to make fun of him."
The youth was sometimes bullied, cursed and mocked for his participation in an extracurricular cheerleading club, AV Dynasty All-Stars, the friend said.
"I would tell him 'I got your back, they can't say those things just because you're a cheerleader,' " the boy said. "I'd try to defend him."
Another boy who cheered with Nigel on AV Dynasty said the teenager was "gutsy" and always willing to try new things.
"He had a lot of potential to be great," the fellow cheerleader said. "I wish I would have been able to talk to him before this. I might have been able to change his mind."
Nigel's friend said he was with him Friday when he punched another student who harassed him for cheerleading. After he was suspended from school, Nigel told his friend that his phone was being taken away.
It was the last time Nigel's friend heard from him.
"Is there anything we could have done better?" Garza asked. "When you lose a child, you have to ask a question like that."
He added: "We can't bring Nigel back, but what we can do is never forget what happened."
Times staff writer Kate Mather contributed to this report.