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Haunted by 'if onlys': Parents' turmoil after their 'smiling' son was bullied to death by teenagers who mocked his Invictus Games hero father's disability - but they had no idea until it was too late

  • Sam Abel, 14, took his own life after falling victim to relentless online bullying
  • He had confided his misery to classmates, saying 'I want to die to prove a point'
  • The youngster took his own after plunging from the top of a multi-storey car park
  • Parents Anita and Mark said the bullies 'took away all his hopes and dreams'

When Anita Abel first saw her terribly wounded 14-year-old son in the Accident and Emergency unit at Worcester Royal Hospital she could only imagine he d been hit by a car while cycling.

His head was smashed in. There was blood everywhere, she says. I thought, Oh my God, you didn t wear your helmet, did you?

Normally I look out of the window to make sure he s got it on, but that morning I didn t because I was ill in bed. I just called him back in to say: Can you get me a paper, please, and be home by 1pm.

He said: Ok. I didn t think anything of it. It was a beautiful day and Sam often went out on his bike with his camera to take photographs.

But he didn t come back and I hadn t even told him I loved him. I always told him that. I just didn t that day because I wasn t feeling well.

This is one of many things that happened on that Sunday six months ago that continues to torment Anita. Why did I moan at him for not helping me change the sheets that morning? Why did I confiscate his headphones from him? she asks. That is something that will always stick in my mind.

CCTV footage shows Sam Abel (centre) locking up his bicycle before climbing eight floors to the top of the multi-storey car park. He then stood on the wall and plunged 30ft to the ground. He is pictured with his parents Anita and Mark

CCTV footage shows Sam Abel (centre) locking up his bicycle before climbing eight floors to the top of the multi-storey car park. He then stood on the wall and plunged 30ft to the ground. He is pictured with his parents Anita and Mark

Perhaps if I hadn t had a little moan or taken those headphones he d still be here listening to videos on his iPhone and laughing in his bedroom.

Anita, 47, now knows the injuries her son sustained were not accidental but were inflicted by his own hand much of it captured on CCTV.

For, unbeknown to Anita and her husband Mark, their academically gifted son Sam was a deeply unhappy young man who was being bombarded with spiteful messages on social media day and night. He had confided his misery to numerous classmates, telling close friends: I want to die to prove a point.

That morning Sam strapped on his helmet to cycle two-and-a-half miles from his family home on the outskirts of Worcester to an Asda superstore in the centre of town. CCTV footage shows him locking up his bicycle before climbing eight floors to the top of the multi-storey car park. His mother says this isn t that unusual. Local teenagers often hang out there.

But something happened that lunchtime. A supermarket employee saw Sam, apparently on his phone, texting. Less than ten minutes later he had sent a message to a friend: This world is s***. He then stood on the wall and plunged 30ft to the ground.

Normally I don t worry for at least 20 minutes if he s late but that day, for some reason, I did, says Anita. It was literally a minute past 1pm when I texted my daughter who was downstairs and said: Is Sam home yet? She said No , so I asked her to ring him. He didn t answer so she kept trying.

All of a sudden she screamed: Oh my God, mum. Get out of bed. There s a paramedic on the phone. I think he s dead. I said: Don t be silly. He s fine. She said: He s had an accident at Asda. I thought: Oh God, did he have his helmet on? I didn t check.

Unbeknown to Anita and her husband Mark, their academically gifted son Sam was a deeply unhappy young man who was being bombarded with spiteful messages on social media day and night He had confided his misery to numerous classmates, telling close friends: I want to die to prove a point

Unbeknown to Anita and her husband Mark, their academically gifted son Sam was a deeply unhappy young man who was being bombarded with spiteful messages on social media day and night

Anita and her daughter dashed to hospital, where they waited for Sam to be brought in.

I saw him and . . . Anita falters. You know from the sheer anguish on her face that the image of her horribly wounded son will never leave her. They sent my daughter away, but I said: There s no way I m going. I m staying with Sam. I went into the resuscitation unit with him. He was unconscious. I held his hand and said: You re going to get through this, boy, come on.

After about five minutes, they said: We ve got to stop. We can t save him. I said: You ve got to keep going. They said: We can t do any more.

I stayed with him for six hours, holding his hand. As a mum you re there in the beginning and you need to be there until the bitter end, don t you?

I still thought it was a car accident. I remember asking someone: Was he wearing his helmet? They said: No.

Anita and Mark, 50, a former Army corporal who was flying back from a ski race in Austria that day, now know their apparently happy, smiley son had been contemplating suicide for several weeks, but neither of them had the faintest idea of his misery. It is this that troubles them most.

In the months since their son s death, Anita and Mark have pieced together the sheer hell he endured but kept from them. Sam is pictured with his grandfather Bill Richmond

In the months since their son s death, Anita and Mark have pieced together the sheer hell he endured but kept from them. Sam is pictured with his grandfather Bill Richmond

I FaceTimed Anita and the kids the night before from Austria, says Mark. Sam was his usual happy, smiley self. We talked about the race and he said: I ll see you at the train station tomorrow.

We even discussed what we were going to have for tea on Sunday hunter s chicken in barbecue sauce with bacon. It was Sam s favourite. He shakes his head. None of it makes any sense.

Mark is a stoic soul who, after losing his sight due to multiple sclerosis six years ago, competed in last year s Invictus Games on the swimming team where he and Sam met Prince Harry. But his son s death has cut him deeply.

After leaving the Army he worked as a health support worker in a psychiatric intensive care unit. He beats himself up daily for not recognising his son s distress.

Mark feels he s failed as a parent for not seeing anything wrong, but neither of us did, says Anita. For me, as his mother, the hardest thing is knowing he kept it all inside. To think of the hell he must have been going through and to not tell us there was anything wrong. We talk about everything and anything in our family.

We knew there d been problems with a boy at school in the past. We d visited the school several times and were told they were acting on it. When we asked him if everything was all right at school, he d say: Yes, it s fine. He did a good job of hiding everything. If only we d . . . Anita stops. She can t speak for tears. Mark rubs her shoulder to comfort her. The if onlys haunt them daily.

In the months since their son s death they have pieced together the sheer hell he endured but kept from them.

As his parents, if they had known the torment he was suffering, they could have helped him. They are speaking now in the hope that other young people will confide in an adult if they suspect that someone they know is being bullied. They also want those who target others on social media to fully understand the misery they can cause.

For weeks we couldn t understand why, says Anita. We knew he d sent that final message because his friend told the police, but nobody could get into his iPhone because it was locked and Apple, in their wisdom, won t let you access it. We ve tried to guess his password for hours.

The police took away his computer and phone but there s so much stuff they can t get into.

Then, about three or four weeks afterwards, I was going through pictures of him on the iPad when I found a series of messages. I thought: What s this?

 We knew he d sent that final message because his friend told the police, but nobody could get into his iPhone because it was locked and Apple, in their wisdom, won t let you access it. We ve tried to guess his password for hours. Sam is pictured left with his parents

We knew he d sent that final message because his friend told the police, but nobody could get into his iPhone because it was locked and Apple, in their wisdom, won t let you access it. We ve tried to guess his password for hours. Sam is pictured left with his parents

They were group chats on Facebook Messenger. I don t know how they got linked into the iPad, but they did. It was clear Sam thought he was chatting to one of his mates, but he wasn t. Someone was pretending to be someone else. They call it pranking. They were talking about general things in the run-up to Christmas and even Christmas day, like going back to school and girls.

Sam wanted to go out with a certain girl. He was asking: Where shall I meet you? He also wrote that he didn t like a certain boy and gave his name. When he realised he wasn t talking to who he thought he was, he said: I don t really hate him. The others in the group said: You do.

We ve only got snippets and no names, just numbers. The police haven t been able to track some of them down. Apparently, kids can pick up what they call burner phones, which are used temporarily, and then the number is disposed of. It s what drug dealers use. The thought that 14-year-olds are adopting the practices of criminals to bully others is truly chilling.

Harder still, for loving parents, to read in black and white the suffering their sensitive son endured. They were calling him Spotify because he was very spotty, although we managed to get rid of his spots before Christmas. They also called him Cracker, apparently because he couldn t pull girls.

Sam wrote that he thought he was going insane and said: I want to kill myself. He said he was going to prove a point. That s the first we knew of the cyber bullying. If I d found those messages before he might still be here.

Again there are tears. We still don t believe it. Every morning you wake up and think he ll be coming into the room. It s every morning, isn t it?

She turns to Mark. Until something like this happens you ve got no idea what that pain is like every single day. It s a struggle and we do put on a front because we want to try to get over the awful side that comes from bullying.

Devastated, Anita said: 'We still don t believe it. Every morning you wake up and think he ll be coming into the room. It s every morning, isn t it? The mother added: 'Until something like this happens you ve got no idea what that pain is like every single day. It s a struggle and we do put on a front because we want to try to get over the awful side that comes from bullying

Devastated, Anita said: 'We still don t believe it. Every morning you wake up and think he ll be coming into the room. It s every morning, isn t it?

 He had so many hopes and dreams, she says. The bullies took them all away along with those of the whole family. Our lives will never be the same again,' said Anita

He had so many hopes and dreams, she says. The bullies took them all away along with those of the whole family. Our lives will never be the same again,' said Anita

Mark and Anita s fortitude is truly astonishing. The day before Sam s funeral Anita was diagnosed with neuroendocrine tumours in her pancreas, which had now spread to the lymph nodes. It is why she was feeling poorly on that Sunday. The prognosis is not encouraging, but her thoughts are only for her son.

He had so many hopes and dreams, she says. The bullies took them all away along with those of the whole family. Our lives will never be the same again.

Sam was a motivated young man who excelled in business studies. He had already set up two successful YouTube channels, reviewing products for the shopping site Amazon, and had ambitions to be the next Alan Sugar . He wanted to live in Los Angeles, have an office in New York and drive a Lamborghini by the time he was 25.

Instead, he lies in a grave at Astwood Cemetery, Worcester. His parents visit him every day. There s a couple of toy Lamborghinis in his coffin with him as well as a business book, currency from America and Europe so he can get around, a helicopter, one of my Invictus Games tops, aftershave, a toothbrush, a cookbook, family photographs and two teddy bears. Mark stops. He shakes his head.

You do what you can to make sure your kids are safe, but they even bullied him for wearing a yellow crash helmet and jacket.

Sam was in Year Six at primary school when the bullying began. It followed him to Tudor Grange Academy School, where classmates encouraged by a ringleader who Mark believes was jealous of Sam s achievements hid his schoolbooks, punctured his water bottle, slashed his bike tyres and called him a grass when he confided in teachers.

 The name calling was to do with my disability and our name, Abel, so disabled, that sort of thing. I don t condone violence, but told Sam to do what we did as kids and sort it out in the playground.' Sam is pictured next to Prince Harry at the Invictus Games

The name calling was to do with my disability and our name, Abel, so disabled, that sort of thing. I don t condone violence, but told Sam to do what we did as kids and sort it out in the playground.' Sam is pictured next to Prince Harry at the Invictus G

The name calling was to do with my disability and our name, Abel, so disabled, that sort of thing. I don t condone violence, but told Sam to do what we did as kids and sort it out in the playground.

He was a brown belt in karate and could look after himself. The best way to stop that sort of thing is to give someone a good clip round the ear, but Sam said: I d love to but I can t. I ll get expelled. The school has a zero tolerance policy on violence.

Two years ago he went on a school skiing trip to Austria. Sam was very tidy, probably because of my military background. Another guy in the room started picking on him because he was organised. He took stuff out of his bag so he couldn t find it, messed up his bed and wouldn t let him go to sleep at night. He rang us in tears. He was a sensitive chap.

When the Abels complained to the school they were told sanctions had been put in place in line with school policy. Sam assured them everything was fine and, over the following months, seemed to gain confidence.

In the last year he changed from a baby to a young man, says Anita. He began taking a pride in his appearance getting up, having a shower, gelling his hair and meeting friends in town.

The Abels say they didn t notice anything untoward about their son that Christmas other than that he seemed to be spending more time on his phone. They now know in December a bully took his phone and punched him when he tried to get it back.

 We will never know what was said on his phone on the roof because the police can t get access to the messages due to encryption. But it obviously got that bad it pushed him over the edge'  Snapchat messages only last seconds but when you re getting them constantly the seconds add up. He had no escape from them because it wasn t just at school any more. It was online and offline and on and off the playground'

We will never know what was said on his phone on the roof because the police can t get access to the messages due to encryption. But it obviously got that bad it pushed him over the edge', said Anita

On January 3, Mark left for Austria for a ski race meeting. When he said goodbye Sam was, Mark remembers, his normal self, chatting happily to the team coach on the drive .

He returned to school and, on January 5, received the results of a business studies exam: 60 out of 60. He and Anita decided to surprise Mark with the news upon his return.

On the Friday night he got home from school and packed his bag for Monday. It s still upstairs in his room, says Anita. My sister came with her young children on the Saturday. Sam was playing with them building a den with furniture and sheets. I suppose he was a bit quieter than normal. I do remember that his phone kept beeping all the time. Who it was from, I don t know . . . Again, she is in tears.

This is all so uncanny. Nothing adds up. He didn t leave a note nothing. He loved us so much and knew how much we loved him. Why did he do this?

Mark takes her hand.

We will never know what was said on his phone on the roof because the police can t get access to the messages due to encryption. But it obviously got that bad it pushed him over the edge.

Snapchat messages only last seconds but when you re getting them constantly the seconds add up. He had no escape from them because it wasn t just at school any more. It was online and offline and on and off the playground.

The hardest point for me is I didn t see any signs. At Sam s funeral we asked people to write messages about him. His friends said he was always smiling, always helpful always there to put an arm around someone when they needed it.

But not one of them stepped forward to say: I m a bit worried about Sam. This is what s going on if only they had.

  • For confidential support call the Samaritans on 116123 or visit a local Samaritans branch, see www.samaritans.org for details.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR celebrityrave

Journalist, writer and broadcaster, based in London and Paris, her latest book is Touché: A French Woman's Take on the English. Read more articles from Agnes.

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