Romy Vilsaint bullying death, Haitian community justice, school death
Grieving godmother of Romy Vilsaint during a press conference May 14. Photo: NY Daily News

Last month, as Haitians in the diaspora celebrated Haitian Heritage Month, a tragedy unfolded in Brooklyn. Romy Vilsaint, a 12-year-old boy, died at Brooklyn’s Kings County Hospital on May 7 from injuries he received after another boy punched his head in an incident that officials are calling a case of bullying.  

Romy was punched over a $1 dare, according to authorities. That dare ended his life, and the school, the Department of Education and Mayor Bill DeBlasio should demand a thorough investigation and find out how this shy boy was killed so tragically. 

Local elected officials have also called for investigations, but they should remain vigilant and let the investigators know that this case is of urgent concern — not only to the Haitian community, but to the city at large.

Every parent sends their child to school every day with the expectation that the child will be protected and nurtured. It is a nightmare when the child dies on the school grounds where they are supposed to be safe. 

This sort of tragedy never leaves the parents and family members. Although Romy left us all too soon, his memory is seared in the minds of his family, who remembers the little things that Romy used to do. It could be the words that he used regularly; perhaps it is the clothes that he wore frequently. It could also be the music that he enjoyed. The parents have also to look at the empty bed, the empty table during dinner time. 

Each memory is a trigger that shoots a cocktail of grief and sorrow into his family’s veins. 

Romy Vilsaint death, fatal bullying, Brooklyn bullying death, school boy bullying death, Haitian boy killed
Family members of Romy Vilsaint grieve after the 12-year-old boy (center) was killed in a case authorities attribute to bullying. Photos by NY Daily News and NY Post.

Romy’s family is weary of the school’s silence, understandably so. But I know that the school cannot release any information to not prejudge the investigation. What we would like to know is how did this happen? Who dropped the ball? Someone or some people should be held accountable for this tragedy. 

“The way that they want to put it, it’s like the child was so worthless, and nobody wants to even address the cause of his death,” his godmother Jeanne Vilsaint told The Haitian Times. “They want to just erase everything like nothing ever happened. He was a person.” 

Unfortunately, this is not the first time a tragedy like that has hit the Haitian community. More than 30 years ago, David Opont became prominent when he was set ablaze after refusing to smoke crack being forced upon him on his way to school. Opont was also 12 years old at the time of the incident and lived in Brooklyn.

In a 1990 story, The New York Times described David this way:

David was … as a quiet, clean-cut boy who had emigrated from Haiti a year ago and, though unable to speak English fluently, studied hard at the Walt Whitman Intermediate School at 72 Veronica Place and got along well with his family and neighbors at 754 East 23d Street in the Midwood section.

I was working at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel at that time when I read David’s story. It touched me, but it also told me that the New York Haitian community was coming into its own. I filed it away and moved on. 

Three years later, I would move back to New York working with The New York Times. This was one of the first stories I pitched to my editors and soon I would do a profile of David for my first front page story at The New York Times. 

By then, David had moved to a modest one family home in Queens with his parents. He was indeed quiet and seemed weary of the attention he had gotten over those last three years. 

I have often wondered what happened to David. I never saw them after that interview. He kept a low profile. He was probably traumatized by that experience.  

It was a time when the community was timid and made few waves. It was shortly before the famous march across the Brooklyn Bridge that shut down Wall Street and lower Manhattan. 

But now things are different. We should demand more from officials. We owe it to Romy and his family to ensure that justice is served. 

Garry Pierre-Pierre is a Pulitzer-prize winning, multimedia and entrepreneurial journalist. In 1999, he left the New York Times to launch the Haitian Times, a New York-based English-language publication serving the Haitian Diaspora. He is also the co-founder of the City University Graduate School of Journalism‘s Center for Community and Ethnic Media and a senior producer at CUNY TV.

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  1. This is outrageous!! The school administration and the NYC Department of Education MUST be held accountable. The bully who attacked this innocent child must be severely punished. He’s responsible for the death of an innocent boy.

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