Cause of Evanston boy’s death disputed by mother

Margaret Rhodes

Three months after Aquan Lewis’ death by hanging in a school bathroom stall, his mother remains resolute that her son did not commit suicide.

The 10-year-old was found unresponsive in the boys’ restroom at Oakton Elementary School on Feb. 4, and died early the next morning. The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office then ruled the death a suicide by hanging. The Evanston Police Department has since closed their investigation, agreeing that the death was self-inflicted.

“I’m never going to think it’s a suicide,” said Aquan’s mother, Angel Marshall. “There’s a lot of things that are in our faces that show that it was highly impossible for him to be successful at this by himself.”

Marshall has not yet had access to either the investigation records from the EPD or Evanston/Skokie School District 65. With the help of her attorney, Todd Smith, she has a petition in the circuit court of Cook County to obtain records from the investigations.

“We thought it was best to get the material and be best informed before filing any lawsuits,” Smith said. “That’s the way we started, and it’s been longer than I hoped it would be, obviously.”

Attorney Geary Kull said he believes any objections to release records from the school district could be in an effort to protect themselves from further investigation.

While Kull works as an attorney in Chicago, he is involved in the case as a friend of the Marshall family.

“I think there are discrepancies, and we’re not really aware of what the actual facts that were taking place at the time,” he said. “We feel the same way we’ve always felt: there was a huge amount of negligence. We don’t believe he ever really intended to take his own life. He was a happy child who went to school happy.”

Smith said it was possible the school district had invoked rights of privacy under Illinois School Student Records Act, which says the State Board is entitled to issue regulations to govern the contents of school student records. He said he does not believe this should be a reason to prevent the disclosure of information to the family.

“I’ve got serious concerns about the fact that Aquan was alone, or at least not seen, not observed, not with his class, for … at least 15 minutes, but as much as 45 to 50,” Smith said.

Pat Markham, director of communications for District 65, said the district’s legal counsel advised against immediately releasing the records because of the threat of litigation. The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services received an anonymous tip suggesting carelessness on the part of the school.

“The Department of Children and Family Services … completed their investigation, and we had been informed that they did not find any evidence of negligence in this matter,” Markham said.

The teacher of Aquan’s 5th-grade class has not returned to Oakton, Markham said.

EPD Cmdr. Thomas Guenther said if family did want to see the records they could go “through the proper channels.”

Smith said they plan to receive a decision from a judge regarding the records by Thursday.

Click through the timeline to learn more about the investigation.

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Related:Death of Evanston boy ruled a suicide 2/5/09District 65: Suicide not likely, says boy’s family 2/10/09Police back examiner’s findings in boy’s death 2/18/09Children’s suicides raising concern 2/26/09