On his first day of school on Sept. 4, 2012, the bullies called him a racial epithet and blocked him from the drinking fountain, saying, "This is the white fountain."

They would repeat the epithet several times a day for four months. The bullies put him in a choke hold, hit him with a toy whip and threatened to "hang you like your ancestors."

You may remember my column on Isaiah Gatimu, a black former student at Greenway High School in Coleraine. He was facing a mediation hearing in August over his allegations that a small group of students bullied and harassed him daily for several months, until he changed schools.

But Gatimu, 19, never got resolution for his torment. He took his own life on Aug. 5, 2014, just days before the hearing was to take place.

But now Gatimu and his mother at least have some confirmation of his abuse.

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights has issued a damning ruling that probable cause exists that Gatimu was indeed the victim of "a hostile educational environment and as a result [the school] denied him benefits and services."

The department's ruling furthermore determined that Gatimu and his mother, Correen, notified the industrial technology teacher, a school counselor and then-principal Anne Olson of the abuse, and that the boys in question were never disciplined.

"The investigation revealed that the respondent failed to take prompt action to address the charging party's and her son's complaints." The school counselor didn't tell the principal until Dec. 18 that Gatimu "had been subjected to more than three months of daily racial harassment," the report said.

On Jan. 20, 2013, Correen wrote to the school:

"I can't express the disgust I feel, and honestly, I don't know which is worse, the things these boys have said and done or the way it was handled. This has been going on since the first day of school; not only did the school continue to let it go on, but also allowed it to escalate from verbal to physical assault."

School officials eventually interviewed all the boys and involved the police liaison, "however, there was no consequence or suspension to any of the students for the illegal behavior," the department concluded.

When the school initially responded to Gatimu's complaints, they said Isaiah contributed to the harassment and that the name-calling was mutual.

Furthermore, the School District's attorney said in his response that the district "believes that this charge is in part motivated as an act of retaliation by charging party because her son had been expelled by School District for 12 months because of drug violations."

His mother said that expulsion happened in ninth grade, when Isaiah sold a relative's heart medication, passing it off as another drug.

Lori Peterson, attorney for Gatimu, said the school's attempt to claim Isaiah partly caused his abuse is disturbing.

"That they dared to blame him for being harassed is just outrageous," said Peterson, a Minneapolis attorney. Peterson now represents Correen Gatimu and is contemplating a lawsuit.

Peterson provided me with a statement by one of Gatimu's classmates. The student said Gatimu was called a "scumbag" and a "monkey," and told to "go back to Africa" on a daily basis.

Another friend acknowledged that the taunting affected Gatimu, and that before his death he had "become more distant."

Peterson spent considerable time with Gatimu before his death and said he was a bright kid with a good sense of humor. His mother "has really had a rough time," particularly now that the holidays are here.

When I interviewed Correen Gatimu in August, she portrayed Isaiah as the family handyman who had become the man of the house for his single mom and his younger sister, Ashley. He loved basketball, church and hanging out with his friends.

Since Gatimu's death, there have been some changes, said Peterson. The school's former principal quit and has gone back to teaching. There is a new principal this year who has promised heightened diligence to harassment, according to the Duluth News Tribune.

The issue exploded on social media, and people have discussed problems at the schools and other schools in the region.

"I think the subject has come out of the shadows," Peterson said. "Before, I don't think the kids had a forum they could go to to discuss this."



Follow Jon on Twitter: @jontevlin