Bullying eroded 11-year-old Phil Mick's self-esteem in recent years, but Tuesday — his first day of sixth grade — dozens of motorcyclists helped boost the Indiana boy's confidence by escorting him to middle school.
About 50 bikers from such cities as Fort Wayne and Columbia City gathered at Richards Restaurant in Auburn for the motorcade, leading a massive show of support for the young boy as he began a new school year, organizer Brent Warfield of KDZ Motorcycle Sales & Service said.
The first day of school is a day Phil would have typically dreaded, his mother said.
Tammy Mick said her son wasn't forthcoming about being bullied, but she noticed changes in him and eventually got him to talk. She told TV station WPTA the bullying was so bad, her son considered suicide.
"They called me fat," Phil told the station. "Sometimes, kids would come up and kick me in the wrong areas."
Mick described Warfield as a "god angel" to Phil, who had been tormented to the point that he felt worthless and would call himself stupid, she said.
Warfield met the family at Christmastime last year, he said, and he offered to arrange a first-day-of-school escort when he learned of Phil's plight. The boy's story "hit my heart," he said.
"As a motorcycle community, we don't want to see children getting bullied, because it leads to teenage suicide," he said in a phone interview.
According to a 2015 report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the third-leading cause of death for ages 10 to 14. Youths who frequently bully others and youths who are frequently bullied are at an increased risk for suicide-related behavior, the agency reported.
Mick said Phil, who called the bikers his brothers and sisters, eagerly anticipated Tuesday's motorcycle ride — his first.
"I recommend this for any kid who's being bullied," Mick said in a phone interview before Phil returned home from school. "He was all smiles this morning."
The bikers prayed for Phil before departing the restaurant for DeKalb Middle School. The motorcycles' roar was difficult to miss as they arrived, Principal Matt Vince said, recalling how the sound reverberated off the exterior brick walls.
He commended the motorcyclists for supporting the student, whom the school looks forward to getting to know.
"Standing up against bullying - we need more of that," Vince said by phone. "And they did it in a positive way."
The principal encouraged students, parents and community members to report concerns of any kind by phone, by email or through the DeKalb County Central United Schools app, for which information is available at www.dekalbcentral.net.
"We want to know about it," Vince said. "We want to help."
SUICIDE PREVENTION HELP: The National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255) is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.