Tim Farrell/The Star-LedgerFriends and classmates of Morristown High School student Lennon Baldwin gather outside Assumption Church in Morristown Friday afternoon after a prayer service was held in memory of the teen, whose death is under investigation.
MORRISTOWN — A 15-year-old Morristown High School freshman died at home this week in an apparent suicide, and prosecutors say they are investigating whether the boy might have been driven to his death by bullies.
Lennon Baldwin, known for his love of bowling, skateboarding and music, was found dead Wednesday.
In a statement Friday, Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi said all aspects of the youngster’s death, “inclusive of bullying,” will be investigated.
Officials released few details about the investigation but friends — and even Lennon’s family in an obituary — alluded to possible harassment.
“What Lennon really wanted was to be loved, respected, and accepted by his peers,” the family wrote in the obituary, which appears in today’s Star-Ledger. “Now Lennon is finally at peace.”
Joe Mottola, former owner of the Plaza Lanes in Madison, said he and Lennon, an avid bowler, had a ritual every Saturday morning.
They made quite the sight, the 6-foot-1, 340-pound veteran bowler and the 5-foot-8, 105-pound teenager who greeted each other before bowling practice with a chest bump.
But things will be different today at the bowling alley, and the usual clatter of pins being struck will be muted during a moment of silence for Lennon before the youth league begins play.
Mottola said Lennon was a happy-go-lucky kid who lit up the bowling alley when he walked in, and did a good job “masking his pain.”
“He was being picked on and that’s all there is to it,” Mottola, who joined Lennon and his dad in a father-son bowling league. “I’m pretty upset over the whole ordeal.”
Mottola said he had spoken with Lennon’s family but declined to discuss specifics of the conversation.
School officials told students their classmate committed suicide in his home. The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office major crimes unit, juvenile unit and computer crimes unit, as well as the county Sheriff’s Office and the Morris Township and Morristown police department’s were investigating.
Lennon’s obit and conversations with schoolmates suggested a busy teen with diverse interests.
He was a champion bowler who once rolled a 258. He played drums and guitar and was learning how to mix songs, was training to become a camp counselor, was in the ski club, mastered video games, rode his longboard skateboard around the neighborhood and treated animals like human beings.
His favorite television shows were “The Office,” “The Simpsons” and “South Park.”
Christian Koba said he and Lennon met in fourth grade and became closer in middle school.
He said he shared Lennon’s interest in heavy metal music and often jammed with him on weekends, practicing and performing covers of Slayer and Metallica songs.
They boys had one class together at Morristown High — guitar — where they were being classically trained to play the instrument.
“I saw him on Sunday. We were on the computer, listening to music and doing math homework,” Christian said. “He seemed the same as usual — happy.”
Christian’s father, Mark Koba, said Lennon appeared to be a “happy-go-lucky kid.”
“He was helpful, he was polite, he was really just a great kid,” Koba said. “We had no idea he was hurting and that adds to the tragedy. To come to find out it was suicide — we had no indication. It goes to show you how wrong you can be about someone and their pain.”
“He’s a really nice kid — he was always smiling and laughing,” said Danny Perez, 16, a Morristown High junior, after a prayer service for Lennon Friday afternoon at Morristown’s Assumption Church packed with students, many still carrying backpacks and wearing athletic gear. “He was funny.”
“Like, everyone’s been telling me about how he always made everyone’s day,” Perez said.
Other kids did not speak outside the prayer service, saying teachers had told them not to talk to the media.
Perez said he and his classmates found out about Lennon’s death from a homeroom teacher.
“At the end of the day they made an announcement,” he said. “By then, everyone kind of knew.”
Perez said he although he never witnessed any bullying, “it was all over Facebook. Everyone was talking about it … I don’t know who it was, but apparently there was a group of kids terrorizing him.”
Lennon’s friends have been posting tributes to him online, including Facebook status updates and Twitter posts in his memory. Two friends scrawled his initials on their shoes and athletic gear.
A Facebook page named “RIP Lennon Baldwin” was created Friday. Another friend sketched a photo of Lennon’s face.
Last night, about 100 students, along with some parents and friends, walked from the high school to the Morristown Green, the village square, for a candlelight vigil. They fought to keep their candles lit in the wind.
Mottola, 52, said bullying is a problem that stems from bad parenting.
“I look at some of the parents in this town and they have done a really horrible job of raising their children for them to think that treating someone that way a good thing,” he said. “This is an epidemic and we are holding the wrong people accountable. We need to hold the parents accountable.”
Mottola said he was dreading going back to the bowling alley today.
“When I walk into bowling alley and I’m waiting for practice to start it will not be the same,” he said. “My heart is going to sink.”
In a statement issued yesterday, Thomas Ficarra, Morris School District superintendent said he had met with authorities regarding Lennon’s death.and told them he appreciated the “aggressive” investigation.
He expressed “heartfelt condolences” to Lennon’s family and said the district would have no further public comment.