To everyone around her, China Howard seemed fine.
She had an American Girl doll, she loved going to church and she was an honor student at Arnold Mireles Academy set to be inducted into the National Honor Society this week.
“China was a wonderful daughter, she was loving and caring and full of life and spontaneous,” said her mother Ebonie Windham.
Except Howard was keeping a secret that her mother and other adults didn't know, and now they’re sharing her story in hopes that it may save other children like her.
Howard’s family said the teen was the target of relentless bullying at school and online. Her sister said the 13-year-old had confided in her, and only her, about what was happening.
“These girls were talking about her hair because it was short and they would tell her ‘oh your sister did you hair? Well, she did a terrible job or you know make her feel bad so that she would cry," Ivorie Lindsey said.
Still, Windham said her daughter didn’t show any signs of depression.
“No one knew, no one knew anything, no one saw this coming,” Windham said.
Then, over the weekend, the eighth grader took her own life.
Family members said they believed Howard killed herself because she couldn’t take the bullying anymore.
“She was able to mask that with school and staying on top of her grades,” said family friend Angela Grier.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there is a strong link between bullying and suicide. A study by Yale University also found that bully victims are two to nine times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims.
"The loss of a young life is a tragedy, and as a school district we work to support students and staff during times of grief,” Chicago Public Schools said in a statement. “Our thoughts and prayers are with the family and the larger school community during this most challenging time."
CPS noted that it has expanded the use of curriculum in recent years that “emphasizes the importance of empathy to reduce bullying and antisocial behavior.” The Chicago Board of Education also has an anti-bullying policy which prohibits bullying and harassment during any school-sponsored activity, during school, on transportation and through CPS computers or technology.
Windham said she’s sharing her daughter’s story in hopes that it encourages parents to talk to their children and listen to them.
"Please don't keep these type of secrets, because I didn't know," said Windham. "I didn't know."
A GoFundMe page has been set up to raise money for Howard's funeral.
If you or someone you know needs help call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255