'He was sunshine’: AL mother discusses teen son who took his life after depression, bullying

Updated: Apr. 24, 2019 at 9:41 AM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, AL (WAFF) - Less than a week after a 15-year-old Huntsville High student took his own life, his mother is speaking for the first time.

Camika Shelby sat down with WAFF 48 News on the same day she made final arrangements for her son. She says she is speaking out now in hopes that the world would know who her son was and the struggles he fought so hard to overcome. Here’s Nigel’s story.

“He was just special,” his mother said with a sigh.

Nigel and Camika Shelby
Nigel and Camika Shelby(Source: Shelby family)

Camika says her son, Nigel, was the light of her life, her miracle child, and a born entertainer.

“Nigel was the sweetest child. He was outgoing, he was always full of joy, full of light, he was always singing, always dancing. He wanted to be a performer so you could probably see that," she said.

But she says, Nigel, who was gay, had trouble accepting himself. He experienced depression and sometimes sank into a dark place. She recalls when Nigel finally gathered the courage to come out to her two years ago.

“Coming out at such a young age, it can be hard. You don’t know if you are going to be accepted. He didn’t know if I was going to accept him. He’s my child. I love him. I know him. I already knew."

Camika says she thought her acceptance would give Nigel the courage to embrace his true self, but he says he still struggled.

“He felt like sometimes he could be him and a lot of times he couldn’t. ‘I’m sorry.’ ‘Don’t apologize.’ I just wish that, I don’t know that people would just learn to love, you know," she said.

In spite of his challenges, on the last night she and her son spent together, Camika says she saw nothing that would foreshadow the devastating, life-altering event that was to come.

Nigel Shelby
Nigel Shelby(Source: Shelby family)

“I had to be at work at 3 the next morning so I went to bed early and he came in my room and said, ‘Mom, I am going to do better in school.’ He kissed me on my cheek and told me he loved me. He came downstairs and was watching TV, and normally I close my door, but for some reason that night I slept with my door open,” said Camika. “I guess I went to sleep about 7 and I woke up about 9 because that is his bedtime, and I remember his light being on and I said, ‘Nigel, close your door because the light is shining in my room,’ and he said, 'OK, good night,; you know, and that was the last conversation that I had with my baby. When I got up to go to work that morning, of course he was still sleeping so I didn’t get to talk to him anymore."

Nigel would have gotten home from school last Thursday between 4 p.m. and 4:45 p.m. Camika says she returned home around 6 p.m. and that is where she found her son.

“I’m kinda confused myself as to what made him want to take his own life because I didn’t think he was going through that much. I knew he was struggling. I knew he was depressed. We were going to see doctors on a regular basis. He was going to see a psychiatrist. I’m still shocked that my baby’s not here anymore.”

And while she is not blaming what happened to Nigel completely on the bullying he endured at school, she says it didn’t help.

Nigel and Camika Shelby
Nigel and Camika Shelby(Source: Shelby family)

“With Nigel’s situation he was already struggling with his identity, so he was going through some stressful times. And depression is real. A lot of people don’t understand that depression is a disease. And when you have a kid who is already depressed and going through a lot emotionally, for you to call him names that you shouldn’t call him or say stuff to them, it sometimes has a worse effect than it would on a child who is not struggling with depression."

Camika is now wondering whether something happened at school that day that prompted him to end his life.

As she prepares to lay her only child to rest this weekend, Camika says she wants Nigel to be remembered as the kind, loving special boy he was and for all the joy and laughter he brought to the lives of everyone he met.

“I don’t want him to be remembered as a kid who was bullied for being gay and who took his own life. He was so much more than that. He was sunshine. He was just a great spirit to have around and it just breaks my heart because I feel like he had so much more love to give."

In addition to the counseling, Nigel had started taking the generic form of Zoloft in November. His mother says she was hesitant to put him on the drug after reading about one of the side effects being suicidal thoughts. She says she asked the doctor repeatedly whether it was OK for Nigel to take Zoloft and says the doctor said he wouldn’t be OK if he didn’t take it.

Nigel Shelby’s Celebration of Life will be April 27 at noon at the Rock church. Visitation will be Friday from 3-8 p.m. at Serenity Funeral Home.

The family says they are so appreciative of the support they have received from the community.

Our thoughts and with Nigel’s family and friends.

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