Authorities: Teen Robbed, Assaulted Before Suicide
Several incidents occurred weeks before 15-year-old Lennon Baldwin's death on March 28, according to police.
Authorities say 15-year-old Lennon Baldwin, a freshman at Morristown High School, was the victim of an assault at the school, told to lie about it and then robbed in the Century 21 parking lot just weeks before committing suicide on March 28 in his Morris Township home.
Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi—flanked by First Assistant Prosecutor Thomas Zelante, County Prosecutor's Office Capt. Jeffrey Paul, Morristown Police Chief Peter Demnitz and Morris Township Acting Chief of Police John McGuinness—announced Wednesday the charges against two Morristown juveniles and 19-year-old Morristown resident Michael Conway for their alleged involvement in the incidents in early March. Some have said bullying led to Baldwin taking his own life.
According to Bianchi, Baldwin was allegedly assaulted at Morristown High School at approximately 11:30 a.m. on March 6 by one of the juveniles, whose name has not been made public due to his age. That alleged assault was captured on the school's surveillance system, Bianchi said, which led to the suspension of the juvenile identified in the video on March 8.
However, prior to the juvenile's suspension on March 8, the police investigation—a collaboration between the Morris County Prosecutor's Office, Morristown and Morris Township police departments—revealed the juvenile "made numerous attempts to contact Mr. Baldwin for the purpose of instructing him to go to the school administration and tell them that the incident which occurred on March 6 was a joke," Bianchi said.
Despite Baldwin reporting the incident as a joke to the school on March 7, the school continued its investigation and subsequently suspended the juvenile defendant the following day.
Then, on March 9, the investigation revealed Baldwin was met by the suspended juvenile, a second juvenile and Conway, in the Century 21 parking lot where Baldwin allegedly was robbed and told "it was punishment for what occurred at Morristown High School on March 6 and the resulting suspension of the juvenile for the alleged assault," Bianchi said.
This alleged incident has led to additional charges of one juvenile with theft and terroristic threats, and the other juvenile with conspiracy to commit robbery and conspiracy to commit theft. Conway has been charged with false swearing for allegedly providing false statements to police and detectives of the Morris County Prosecutor's Office.
The two juveniles were sent to the Morris County Youth Detention Facility on March 22 and 23, and released to House Arrest on March 27, which remained in place as of the May 30 press conference, Bianchi said.
On March 28, Baldwin was found dead.
In the days following his death, friends and loved ones posted tributes to the teen through social networks like Facebook and Youtube. Several have noted Baldwin had been the victim of bullying, which led to his suicide.
The charges for the incidents that allegedly occurred earlier that month could carry up to 18 months in prison for Conway, the only adult. Bianchi said in juvenile cases, there is a wide berth for the judge based on what is in the best interests for the juvenile. That could mean nothing or incarceration, the prosecutor said.
Once county prosecutors conclude their investigation, Bianchi said Morris School District Superintendent Thomas Ficarra would begin his own investigation, which could potentially reveal more about the situation, including a deeper pattern of events between Baldwin and those that have been charged. "It would not be a surprise," Bianchi said.
"Now that the initial phase of the criminal investigation is complete, the District will continue an internal review of this matter as it pertains to incidents at Morristown High School," Ficarra said in a statement on Thursday. "This review will include an examination of all policies and procedures that deal with harassment, intimidation and bullying as well as an examination of the timely implementation of these procedures.
"This has been an unspeakable tragedy for the family and a difficult time for our entire community," the superintendent wrote.
"The Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights Act," signed by Gov. Chris Christie and put into effect on Jan. 1, 2011, does not carry criminal weight, Bianchi said. But, what it does have is the ability to put the onus on school administrations to report potential bullying incidents to police. "We're being inundated, and that's a good thing," Bianchi said. "It's driving them to call law enforcement."
Though he would not directly call what had happened to Baldwin bullying, Bianchi said a number of the charges levied against the three individuals "perfectly and squarely fit in the definition of bullying."
He said an anti-bullying symposium was set for 6 to 8 p.m. June 28 at the Morris County Police Academy in Parsippany.
Before concluding the press conference, Bianchi implored any students that may know any more about these alleged incidents to contact police.
"Our heartfelt condolences go out to the family of Lennon Baldwin," Bianchi said. "Nothing we do will ease the pain or the tremendous loss to the family as well as the community at large."