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Suspension cited in suicide

WW-P calls teen's discipline proper

By KAREN AYRES

Staff writer

    WEST WINDSOR - Shinjan Majumder honed his computer programming skills at an age when most children have not learned to type.

    He earned a black belt in tae kwon do with less than four years of training.

    As a swimmer, he excelled in the breast stroke.

    In the school orchestra, he played the violin.

    Shinjan's parents hoped those accomplishments were only the beginning for the young man who aspired to take his martial arts skills to the Olympics and study computers in college like his older brother, Rangan.

    But on May 4 those dreams faded when Shinjan took his own life at the young age of 13.
    "My life is meaningless now," said Jayanta Majumder, Shinjan's father. "I worked so hard to bring up good children in a good school district."
    Shinjan's suicide has left his family, friends and staff at the regional school district wondering how someone so young could make such a drastic decision.
    His parents believe his death was caused by his suspension from Grover Middle School. He hung himself in the family home only hours later.
    According to his parents, Shinjan - a youngster known for his infectious smile and outgoing personality - was not depressed and only the night before had discussed plans to improve his swimming times.

See PARENTS, A16

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A16 The times, Sunday, May 13, 2001

Parents blame suspension

Continued from Page A1

    "I really don't have any idea what was going on in his mind," said Rita Majumder, Shinjan's mother. "But they surely are to blame."

    But district Superintendent John Fitzsimons said school officials followed disciplinary policies in this case, and although teachers and administrators are grieving the loss, they aren't responsible.

    "When one seeks answers when none exist, it's understandable to to extend blame," Fitzsimons said. "But in my judgment, due process was exercised and the actions of the administration were justified."

[  ]

    Principal Steven Mayer met with Jayanta Majumder around noon on the day of Shinjan's death to inform him that his son was suspended for 10 days for hacking into the school district's computer system, Jayanta said.
    Fitzsimons confirmed Shinjan was suspended, but he would not specify why or for how long. He also would not discuss exactly what Shinjan did to the computer system or what files he accessed. Shinjan's parents don't know to this day the extent of their son's infractions.

    "I am not going to discuss the specifics of the disciplinary actions," Fitzsimons said. "But this young man did violate school rules and regulations and he understood the severity of the rules he broke. When he returned to school, there was going to be support given to him as far as where he could channel his energies in a more positive direction. It was handled extremely well and was quite sensitive."

    Shinjan apparently knew several programming languages from reading books on the subject in hopes of following in the footsteps of 20-year-old Rangan.

    Jayanta alleges Mayer told Shinjan during their meeting that he could go to jail for his offenses, but Fitzsimons said that never happened.

    "He said if (Shinjan) was an adult, hacking into the computer system could be a crime," said Fitzsimons, who spoke on behalf of Mayor. "The boy left, and in any sense of the word, he was not visibly upset. He left the school with his father."

    After the meeting, Jayanta took his son home before returning to his job as an engineer in the nearby Carnegie Center.

    Jayanta spoke with his son on the telephone about a half-hour later, but several other calls went unanswered. Jayanta quickly drove home to find his son had hung himself.

    "If I had any idea, this would never have happened," Jayanta said.

    Police rushed Shinjan to The Medical Center at Princeton but were unable to revive him. The medical examiner ruled the cause of death was asphyxiation by self-hanging, and police officials say they have closed their investigation.

    According to Rita, Shinjan left a note saying he would rather die than go to jail. In his note, he also expressed his love for his parents.

[  ]

    A week after Shinjan's death, his parents can only sit and stare at the fireplace in their home, which is filled with flowers and cards, many of them sent by people the Majumder family doesn't even know.

    Rita eagerly displays a pile of medals, ribbons and trophies showcasing their son's many talents.

    Pictures of the youngster, a bit small for his age, fill the house, which is still laden with toys, compact discs and school supplies, as if Shinjan has only left for a short time. His room remains untouched.

    Jayanta and Rita both believe their son would still be alive if he had not been suspended, but they also know he did something wrong. They believe Shinjan had committed other minor offenses involving computers, but that they were never told.

    "He did something really bad, but why didn't they let us know beforehand?" Rita said.

    "Fitzsimons declined to say whether Shinjan had committed previous offenses.

    The Majumders believe suspension was an excessive punishment for a nonviolent crime.

    "Suspension is shucking off the responsibility," Jayanta said. "It's not like he had a gun or was doing drugs. My purpose is not to take vengeance on the district, but they must sit down and find a way to do something constructive."
    Fitzsimons said Shinjan wasn't the first student suspended for breaking into the school district's computer system. The district's disciplinary policy considers the severity of the infraction and is not one of the district's "zero-tolerance" policies, he said.

    The school district formed a crisis team immediately after Shinjan's death. Counselors met with students and teachers during most of last week.

    "We don't know why (he committed suicide) and we feel terrible about it," Fitzsimons said. "I can't imagine for the life of me what these parents are going through. We'll do what we can to support the family throughout this period of time of grieving.
     In 1998, some 30,575 Americans committed suicide, according to the most recent statistics from the national Centers for Disease Control and Preventation. From 1980 to 1997, the rate of suicide among the children ages 10-14 increased by 109 percent.

    The Majumders, who immigrated from India 25 years ago, acknowledge that one of the few complaints they had about their son was that he spent too much time on the computer.
    But they will never understand why a high-achieving youngster like Shinjan reacted to the suspension by taking his own life.
    They'll always wish they had the time to discuss the suspension with their son.
    And they realize blaming anything or anyone for their son's death will not bring him back.
    But they grieve.
    The Hindu religion dictates they will grievee for 13 days, and Rita puts together an offering of water, candles and incense every night.

    A piece of chocolate - Shinjan's favorite food - is placed next to the offering.