'I wanted to thank all of my friends and those who wrote me for supporting me. I am very happy. It made me feel like I am not alone.'
Editor's note: This article was originally published on October 7, 2021. It has since been updated.
After years of being bullied for being deaf, a Nebraska high school senior received a wave of support from across the nation after he spoke up about the abuse he faced from his peers. Alex Hernandez, who was a student at Burke High School in Omaha, decided he had had enough when someone stole his backpack during the lunch period and dumped its contents into a toilet. A photo of the ruined belongings — which included school supplies, homework, a debit card, and Hernandez's cochlear implant battery (which he needs in order to hear) — was viewed by many on social media after the 2016 incident was reported by a local station.
According to CNN affiliate KMTV, Hernandez alerted administrators as soon as he realized his backpack was missing. Although they helped the teen look for it, they were unsuccessful in locating the backpack. Upon reviewing the surveillance video, security saw two unidentifiable male students walk off with the missing bag. Hernandez told reporters that he didn't know either of the students. "Those students think it's okay to bully a deaf student, but it's not. It's not okay to bully someone who is disabled, deaf or hard of hearing," he said. "Or anyone for that matter."
Hernandez, who has been deaf since he was a one-year-old, revealed that he's been through years of bullying and jokes because of his disability. The missing backpack incident was the last straw, leaving him feeling unsafe to go back to school. "This just got out of hand. There's too much bullying, too much drama, too much fighting, it’s just not nice," he said, adding that what upset him the most was his English project getting ruined. "I was very upset because I know I work really hard on my project and homework because I just want to make my mom to be happy and know that I did a good job on the homework," said Hernandez.
The teen's mom told reporters that the school had informed her that administrators were later able to identify the two students who took her son's backpack. The boys — whose names were not disclosed due to student privacy laws — claimed they didn't know Hernandez was deaf. While one of the students was suspended, the other was still being investigated for his role in the incident. "I just want to talk to them; I don't want to fight them. I want to talk it out. And talk to their parents about them so they can tell them they need to teach them the right thing to do," the bullied teen's mother said.
"It's not fair that the bullies think they can continue with this behavior," she added. "They need to be reminded that there are consequences to stealing and bullying. Today was my kid - tomorrow will be somebody else's." According to CNN, there was a silver lining to the unfortunate Hernandez's experience. A couple of his teachers replaced his ruined notebooks while other classmates came together to raise money for him. Addressing the support he received from both close friends and people all over the country, Hernandez said: "I wanted to thank all of my friends and those who wrote me for supporting me. I am very happy. It made me feel like I am not alone."
He added that most of those who wrote him are also deaf. "They said they felt sorry for me and had me in their prayers. They said [they] were here supporting me and they know how it feels like to be deaf. So I'm very happy," he said. However, the traumatizing incident was too much for the teen to ignore and he ultimately decided to transfer out of Burke. "It's his decision. I support him no matter what. I definitely don't want him going to that school if he doesn't feel safe," the teen's mom said.