A former Dairy Queen manager has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, accused of bullying a high school worker who committed suicide just days before Christmas, authorities said.
Harley Branham, 21, made her first court appearance Tuesday in connection with the death of Kenny Suttner, 17, who shot himself outside his family’s home on December 21 in Glasgow, Mo.
She did not enter a plea, and was released on $25,000 bail. A preliminary hearing is scheduled for May. Her attorney, Jeff Hillbrenner, said his client feels bad about Suttner’s death, The Associated Press reported.
The boy’s family released a statement Tuesday saying, “It is long overdue that the issue of bullying be brought to light.”
On January 31, a six-person coroner’s jury found Branham was the principal cause of the teen’s suicide. She was charged the next day with second-degree involuntary manslaughter.
Several co-workers testified Branham had treated Suttner badly and forced him to perform demeaning tasks such as cleaning the floor while lying on his stomach, according to the Columbia Daily Tribune.
She once threw a cheeseburger at him because he made it incorrectly, according to testimony.
During the inquest, Branham told jurors, “There’s a lot of people at Dairy Queen saying I was the reason [he killed himself], but I don’t understand why it would be that way.”
She denied bullying the boy.
Fellow students tearfully testified that the senior was continually bullied and taunted on campus by kids who made fun of the way he looked, talked and walked.
Best friend Lexie Graves testified Branham was ridiculed for “basically everything about him,” including a speech impediment and his weight. She said he reported the abuse once, but nothing was done.
School district officials testified they were not aware of any bullying. No district employees have been charged.
Howard County Coroner Frank Flaspohler said his inquest was based on his conclusion that “bullying was going on and things weren’t getting corrected,” the paper reported.
The teen wrote several suicide letters before sitting down on a log outside his rural home and shooting himself in the head, authorities said.