7 months after Michael Martin's suicide, status of bus company's investigation unclear

Rachel Greco
Lansing State Journal

LANSING - Dean Transportation won't share the status of its investigation into the bullying Michael Martin said he encountered on his school bus before his suicide.

Seven months after Michael's Jan. 25 death, company officials are saying little about its efforts to determine what happened to the Everett High School eighth grader on his bus.

On Wednesday, Dean Transportation declined to address the status of its investigation, releasing the following statement to the State Journal: "Dean wishes once again to express our deepest condolences to the family of Michael Martin for his tragic loss. However, we are not able to provide any further updates on this issue."

Two photos of Joanna Wohlfert's son, Michael Martin are displayed at her home on Monday, April 29, 2019, in Lansing. Michael, 13, died on Jan. 25, 2019, at Sparrow Hospital, two days after attempting suicide in his home.

Meanwhile an employee who failed to return messages left by Joanna Wohlfert, Michael's mother Jan. 8 about bullying on his bus remains on indefinite leave, Dean spokesman Josh Hovey said.

No determination has been made yet about the employee's work status with the company, Hovey said.

City: Dean hasn't requested more information

Dean's statement comes just over a month after company officials blamed the delay in its investigation on a “significantly redacted” copy of the Lansing Police Department’s report on Michael's death the company received.

Last month Lansing Mayor Andy Schor said the records Dean requested "contained requests that are protected by MI’s privacy laws..."

The copy Dean received was "so heavily redacted that it didn't provide any relevant information," Hovey told the State Journal in July, and the company was looking at alternative means of obtaining a more complete report.

Schor's spokeswoman, Valerie Marchand said neither Dean Transportation or its lawyers have requested any further information from the city since its initial request for the police report.

"They have not reached out to us," Marchand said. "We're happy to provide information that we are legally allowed to provide to them."

A Lansing School District internal investigation conducted after Michael's death and submitted to school officials in late March shows Michael was bullied in school and district officials did not address concerns despite pleas from his mother and a request for intervention from his teachers. 

According to the school's investigation, Nichole Atwater, who drove Michael's school bus, told a school public safety officer no one at Dean Transportation notified her Michael was being bullied on the bus.

But a redacted copy of a Lansing police report obtained by the Lansing State Journal through a public records request shows a Dean Transportation employee did not return two voicemail messages left by Wohlfert on Jan. 8. 

Honoring Michael 

Last month Michael's family gathered the day before his July 22 birthday to mark the occasion. He would have been 14.

Joanna Wohlfert, mother of Michael Martin, an Everett High School eighth grader who killed himself earlier this year after months of bullying at school, holds up a T-shirt she'll wear during a walk for suicide prevention next month.

At Wohlfert's Lansing home they ate his favorite foods, reminisced about his giving nature and easy humor and released 14 helium balloons in his honor.

"It was beautiful," Wohlfert said. "He would have been a freshman in high school this fall. Right now, that's kind of heart-wrenching. I'm just trying to keep it together."

Wohlfert has been busy taking up the cause of suicide prevention, and spreading awareness about the devastation that can come from bullying.

She's purchased and distributed pencils, bracelets and 30 yard signs to friends, co-workers and neighbors that carry messages of hope. 

"You Matter," "Your Mistakes Do Not Define You," and "Don't Give Up," they read. Several are displayed in her own yard, and when people comment on them, Wohlfert offers to give them some to display themselves.

Joanna Wohlfert, mother of Michael Martin, an Everett High School eighth grader who killed himself earlier this year after months of bullying at school, is distributing yard signs, bracelets and pencils she purchased that display messages of encouragement.

The signs and other items carry words people, many who may be suffering silently, need to hear, she said. 

"I want people to know they matter. What's going on in your life now won't be going on a year from now, two years from now. I think people forget that."

Wohlfert said she aims to try and display a similar message, along with Michael's photo and a suicide outreach hotline number, on a Lansing area billboard soon.

Next month Wohlfert will lead a group of more than 20 of Michael's family and friends in the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention's Lansing "Out of the Darkness" fundraising walk at Hawk Island Park.

The group will wear t-shirts with Michael's photo and the message "Stop Bullying."

Hannah Brown, Michael's sister-in-law, said Michael's family is trying to make sure something good comes from losing him, and Wohlfert is leading the charge.

"It has been a good coping mechanism," Brown said. "It's kind of a way to turn a negative situation into something positive, and it's a way to remember and honor Michael. It's a starting point."


Is your school following Michigan's anti-bullying law? Probably not.

Report: Lansing schools did little to help boy who took his own life

Dean Transportation blames delay in investigation on city officials

Student dies from suicide, despite mom's pleas to school

Contact Rachel Greco at rgreco@lsj.com. Follow her on Twitter @GrecoatLSJ.

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