Family videos and photos captured countless moments in Colin Happ’s life: birthdays, holidays, family trips and many outdoor adventures.
“He was funny, had such a sense of humor, was kind, loving, always had a smile on his face,” said his mother Colleen Happ during an interview with NBC 6.
“He enjoyed everything he did, especially outdoor activities,” said his dad Bryan Happ.
His parents said Colin was enjoying his first year at Calvary Christian Academy - a private school in Fort Lauderdale owned by megachurch Calvary Chapel.
Get South Florida local news, weather forecasts and entertainment stories to your inbox. Sign up for NBC South Florida newsletters.
“He seemed to enjoy it. He had made a lot of new friends. He was doing well in school. Everything was smooth sailing until then,” Colleen said.
They said Colin got in trouble in March 2020 after he admitted selling a vape pen to another student and he was expelled as a result.
“We knew there were going to be some consequences but we thought that was so drastic and we pleaded with them to give him another chance. You know, he is just a kid who made a mistake,” Colleen said, adding, “No matter how much we pleaded with them, they just said no.”
On March 4, 2020, a day after he was expelled, Colin stayed home alone.
His mother remembered what she told her son before leaving for work that morning.
“'I’ll see you when I get home and we will figure out what our next steps are. I love you very much,' and I left,” Colleen said. “That was my last conversation with him.”
Colin died by suicide that day. He was just 13 years old.
“This is something you never get over, you just learn to live with. Every day taking a day at a time and learning to live with it,” Bryan told NBC 6.
More than Two Dozen Children and Teens
Colin is one of 29 teenagers and children who have taken their own lives in Broward and Miami-Dade since 2019, according to records provided by the counties’ medical examiners. Some of them were as young as 10 and 11 years old.
While they represent a very small fraction of suicide deaths in our area, experts point to a troubling trend.
“For years now, 10 to 14 years old in the county, as well as in Florida, when you look at causes of death, the second leading cause of death is suicides for that age group,” said University of South Florida professor Karen Liller.
Liller is part of a team investigating suicide deaths in the state of Florida involving teenagers and young adults.
Without speaking about Colin’s case specifically, she said it’s important to keep an open communication at home and in school as well as looking for warning signs.
“You really have to be so cognizant of changes in behavior, differences, something they are doing, they are saying, depression, sadness,” Liller said.
No Warning Signs
Colin’s family told NBC 6 there were no warning signs.
“Colin had no mental health issues. He was the happiest kid, always had a smile on his face, lived life to the fullest,” his mother said.
“There was no doubt in my mind that what Colin did was related to what happened to him the day before at school,” Bryan added.
The family is now suing Calvary Chapel and a school administrator, claiming they failed to “adequately assess” if Colin was in crisis and didn’t provide “the necessary services to minimize the risk of self-harm or suicide.”
“When you are a believer and follower in Christ, like Colin was, it is at your core, it’s part of your identity,” said attorney Thomas Scolaro. “They took away everything he believed in.”
Scolaro is representing the family in the lawsuit against Calvary Chapel.
“Rather than using it as a teaching moment, they used it as a punitive moment,” Scolaro said, referring to Colin’s expulsion.
The school’s policy gives discretion to the school administration when it comes to expelling students.
NBC 6 reached out to the school administrator and representatives for the school and Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale.
Katy Mills, a spokesperson for Calvary Chapel, sent us this statement: “As you mentioned in your email, this is a very sensitive matter, and we don’t believe the details of Colin’s tragic passing should be discussed in the press out of respect for the family. In March 2020, our school community was deeply grieved to hear of the death of Colin Happ. Colin was loved by his friends, teachers and school staff. It was a devastating loss for his family and community, and a tragedy that has forever impacted all who knew him. Our hearts and prayers are still with his family as we all continue to mourn the loss of this precious child. As a church and school ministry, our commitment is always to care for people in their pain, and to offer ongoing comfort and support to families.”
We also reached out to Mitchell Lundeen, who is representing Calvary Chapel and the school administrator in the civil case. He declined to comment, writing in an email, “When I am involved with litigation as an attorney I feel it is in the best interest of my client to not make any comments.”
Calvary Chapel and the school administrator are trying to dismiss the case in court, saying the family agreed to settle any claim or dispute by “biblically-based mediation” when Colin was enrolled, adding if mediation is not successful, they are bound by arbitration.
But Scolaro said the agreement terminated when Colin was expelled.
Bryan and Colleen said it took time and a lot of prayers to be able to talk about what happened to Colin. But they decided to share their story because they hope they can help others struggling.
“We don’t want to have another parent having to go through losing a child to such a senseless thing,” Collen said.
“No issue is too big to be overcome. Kids need to understand that,” Bryan added.
The family said they keep Colin’s memory alive by writing letters to him on Christmas, releasing balloons on his birthdays and keeping his room just the same way he left it.
“I connect with Colin every day…I’m very in tune with him. I just feel his presence continually. I really do. Until we meet again, I’m going to feel that every day,” Bryan said while fighting back tears. “He loved life, he really loved life.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741, or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.