by The Daily

When Stacy Conner picked up her daughter Ashlynn from her elementary school the day before she died, she found the 10-year-old in tears, a drastic change from the bubbly fifth-grader who had hopped out of her car that morning.

Ashlynn told her mother she had been picked on by the same group of girls who had been harassing her all week on the playground of Georgetown Ridge Farm Elementary School in Georgetown, Ill.

Kids had bullied Ashlynn for years, calling her a “slut,” “fat,” and “ugly,” so that day’s incident seemed relatively minor to Stacy: The girls had poked fun at Ashlynn’s initials, “A.C.,” saying it sounded like “air conditioner.”

Three different teachers at the school had told Ashlynn to “stop tattling” after she reached out for help, the girl told her mother. It was the Thursday before Veterans Day, and Stacy told Ashlynn she should go straight to the principal the following Monday if the bullying continued.

“But she didn’t want to wait until Monday,” Stacy told The Daily.

Ashlynn’s older sister found her hanging by her neck from a scarf in a bedroom closet on Friday night. She was pronounced dead before 9 p.m. at a local hospital, another inconceivably young victim of elementary school bullying.

Kevin Tate, the Georgetown schools superintendent, declined to comment on allegations that Ashlynn’s teachers had ignored her pleas for help.

“This very nice and pleasant girl was very well liked by both the students and staff, so this was devastating for everyone at Ridge View Elementary,” Tate told The Daily. He said grief counseling was offered at Ridge View and a few other surrounding schools yesterday.

Vermilion County Sheriff Pat Hartshorn said the death was being treated as a suicide and that his department was investigating claims of bullying, both in person and through Facebook and text messages, but would not comment further.

The school principal did not return calls or emails.

Stacy Conner, a 35-year-old unemployed single mother who lives with her parents and other daughter, described Ashlynn as a cheerful and motivated “all-American girl” who loved to ride her bike and play at the park with her few close friends, some of whom also suffered bullying. An honor roll student, Ashlynn’s latest accomplishment was learning to play all the correct notes on her new tuba.

The bullying had started in third grade. “I cut her hair because she wanted it short, and the kids called her a ‘pretty boy,’ ” Conner said.

“She came home and said that she would never let me cut her hair again, and she never did. But, as I tell my kids, bullies will pick on you for one thing, you’ll fix it, and they’ll find something else. I don’t understand it.”

The harassment continued over the next few years, by both neighborhood children and Ashlynn’s schoolmates. Conner, who was also bullied as a child, said she tried her best to give Ashlynn advice.

“I would tell her that those kids think they’re better than you, but they’re not,” Conner said. “But she didn’t understand. Only a few weeks ago, she came home and said, ‘Mom, why does everyone hate me?’ That’s how deep it went. She felt like everybody hated her.”

Conner hadn’t spoken with school officials about the bullying, but said she had considered it after Ashlynn asked to be homeschooled the day before she took her life. Conner wishes she had stepped in sooner — and that Ashlynn’s teachers had taken her more seriously.

According to the American Association of Suicidology, suicide rates among 10- to 14-year-olds have skyrocketed more than 50 percent over the last three decades.

The recent rise in media coverage of bullying-related deaths reflects these statistics, and has inspired national movements like It Gets Better and Lady Gaga’s recently launched “Born This Way” foundation.

But it’s not getting better fast enough for too many young adults: Ashley Billasano, an 18-year-old from Houston, also killed herself last week after tweeting about her intentions 144 times. Not one follower responded.

“There should be a way for kids to speak anonymously about bullying, so that they don’t feel like they’ll get picked on for tattling,” said Brandon Wills, the 23-year-old founder of the Facebook page “Stop Bullying In Vermilion County,” which has gained almost 500 supporters in the past 24 hours.

Wills, who did not know Ashlynn personally, started the group to brainstorm ways to help local kids who aren’t getting the support they need from teachers or family. He said he had been contacted by other Ashlynn-related virtual memorial groups to discuss ways to help battle bullying on a local level.

Conner attended a candlelight vigil last night for her daughter, one of many taking place in the area this week. She said she is finding solace within the community and in Wicca, the pagan religious movement she has identified with for years in what she described as “more of a spiritual way.”

No other family members identify as Wiccan, and Conner said she did not believe Wicca had anything to do with Ashlynn’s harassment.

“I believe angels and spirits exist, and that even though Ashlynn’s not here with me, in the physical sense, she is with us in the spiritual sense,” Conner said. “She’s all around. I feel her. I know that she’s here.”