Difference Maker: Gabriel's Light

Lisa Fielding
February 18, 2020 - 7:31 am
Gabriel's Light

WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Carol Deely stands next to a glass dining room table inside her Lincoln Park Home. It's filled with some of her oldest son's favorite things.

"He loved making bracelets at camp, he liked old fashioned things like yo-yos and the paper fortune tellers, he loved the color orange and he loved eating skittles," she recalled.

Deely and her husband adopted Gabriel from Ethiopia in 2006 when he was only 4-months old.

"I'm one of 7 children, my husband is one of 6, so we always wanted to have a large family, but we had our third daughter a week before my 40th birthday so we decided on adopting. We brought home Gabriel a few weeks before Christmas, so he was the best Christmas gift my girls every got," she laughed. "It was a very exciting time."

The Deelys would later adopt another boy, Isaiah, also from Ethiopia.

"The boys aren't related, but they were only a few months apart," she said.

Gabriel grew up to be a normal, boisterous, chatty 12-year old.

"He was a happy kid. He never cried. He loved school. His teachers loved him. He always kinda stood out. He was never mean to anyone. He would always help people. He was an all around good kid," she smiled.

The Deelys
Carol Deely

The 7th grader at St. Clement School also loved theater and to collect things, but the night of November 14, 2018, The Deely's life was shattered.

"It started out a normal day. He came home from school, said he was going up to his room to do his homework before piano lessons. That's the last time I saw him alive," she said.

Deely found him in his room. Gabriel had taken his own life, a tragedy that she and her family couldn't grasp.

"To say we were stunned, is an understatement. I did not even know, it didn't even occur to me that children that age even thought about suicide," she said.

Gabriel Deely
WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

Deely said there were no red flags, no warning signs, nothing on his iPad or iPhone that showed he was suffering.

"We weren't aware of any incidents at school. We weren't aware of anything. He had recently joined the basketball team, he was about to get his braces off, he was looking forward to Christmas. We planned his funeral thinking it was an accident, that he maybe thought he'd try and couldn't get out of it. We didn't know. We had no idea," she said. "The police took his iPad, his phone, his watch and they found nothing alarming. But after everything is quiet, then you think why, the search for why."

She soon found out, he was conducting dangerous searches on his school-issued iPad.

"In there we found that he had searched suicide, he had searched bullying, he had searched inappropriate sexual content. It took our breath away," Deely said.

In a statement, The Chicago Archdiocese said St. Clement was monitoring its technology as it's required by federal law.

"The St. Clement community continues to mourn the tragic loss of Gabe Deely and continues to pray for the Deely family. The Archdiocese of Chicago requires all of its schools to implement systems to ensure school-issued devices are not used to access digital content inappropriate for students.  St. Clement was in compliance with those requirements and worked with a technology consultant to select and implement Securly, a third-party web filtering service used by school districts throughout Illinois and the nation.  The Archdiocese and St. Clement remain committed to ensuring that its students use school-based technology in a safe and appropriate manner.”

Gabriel's Light
WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

But Deely said what the school didn't have was keyword search alerts, software that emails parents, teachers, and administrators when certain words are searched through Safari and other web browsers. St. Clements has since installed such software.

"It took many months for the school to make any changes which was stunning. We got two weeks of search reports. What was happening before that? We're still waiting for more search information. We want to also find the direct message history of the social media apps," Deely said.

She would also later learn that Gabe had also talked about killing himself to his friends on a few occasions.

"When I talked to some of their parents, they said when they woke their student and told them Gabe had died, they said 'I bet he killed himself, because he talked about it at school.' This was the day after he died. I don't know if they told the school. We didn't find this out until 3 months later. Apparently he masked it. He gave these signs, but treated it as if he was joking. That's why people need to see the signs and know what to do. We never saw any of this kind of behavior at home," Deely said.

Deely was getting more answers, but she knew she wanted to do more to prevent this from happening to other children and their families.

A small notebook found in Gabriel’s room was returned to her by the Chicago Police Department. That notebook contained one entry and it was from the day he died. Forensic psychologists have interpreted that Gabe felt isolated and alone at school; he felt diminished, not good enough, hopeless. There was evidence of Gabe feeling bullied.

"We know enough that we thought we can't just not try to warn other parents and schools about what we learned to save other kids," she said.

The Deelys
Carol Deely

On the one year anniversary of Gabe's death in 2019, Deely announced the launch of the non-profit Gabriel's Light, a resource center designed to talk about bullying, raise suicide awareness, and to work with schools on better monitoring software.

"The fact that there were signs that he expressed. Seventy-six percent of youth tell a friend about what they're thinking about. He fell into that statistic. He told somebody. How do we get kids, parents, teachers, counselors to be more proactive?" she said.

Deely also hopes to encourage schools to be more vigilant about technology.

"You don't give somebody a set of car keys without driver's ed. You don't give somebody an electronic device without having safety measures in place or without training. These are young, impulsive kids. Based on the search results, that iPad was open all day. Kids are smart and they think of it as a challenge to get around firewalls. Schools, if they are going to issue devices, they have to take responsibility for them," she said.

Deeley said Gabe's death has given her life new meaning. Gabriel's Light has given her a new mission.

"We learned about bullying, the lack of software monitoring on the school device, and the signs of suicides that were ignored, we decided that will be our three things. We want to get the mission out there about these three things so that schools and parents will start acting and taking these precautions to keep kids safe," Deely said.

Gabriel's Light also supports and funds summer camps and youth programs and educates and connects parents to software and apps that are designed with keyword search alerts. It also educates students, parents and teachers about the warning signs of suicide and to report bullying and unusual and dangerous behavior.

Remembrance of Gabriel Deely
WBBM Newsradio/Lisa Fielding

The Deely Family has since moved from the house where Gabe died, but his pictures of happier days still remain, happier days Carol Deely said will keep his memory alive.

"He has a seat at the table still. He has an orange ribbon on the chair too. It's getting easier to talk and laugh than to talk and cry. We want to remember how he lived, not how he died. We want to help others avoid the circumstances that we now face. It's hard to talk about this, but it's the right thing to do," Deely said.

For more information about, visit the Gabriel's Light website.

For help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.