This story explores suicide, including a mother and father's struggle after their 13-year-old son took his life. If you are at risk, please stop here and contact 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for support.
COVINGTON, Ind. -- On the afternoon of the worst day of Terry Badger II's life, the text message from his son never came. "Hey dad, I'm home. Going to do my homework. I'll see you here in a little bit."
Thirteen-year-old Terry Badger III sent those words, or some variation of them, every single afternoon to his dad at work, just like the morning messages Terry sent without fail that said, "I'm up. Getting ready for school. Love you."
His dad got the morning message from Terry on March 6. But not the afternoon one.
That was odd. Terry was home from school. His mom, Robyn, had dropped him off just after 3 p.m. then left for a quick run to the gas station. She had no reason to think she shouldn't leave Terry alone. There were no signs.
On the car ride home, Terry had acted like he always acted, smiling, happy, nothing out of the ordinary, Robyn said. He talked like he always talked, about his plans to get his homework done so he could go to the baseball field at 4:30 p.m. to practice batting with his dad and some friends.
But Terry wasn't really thinking about batting practice or homework on that car ride home, his parents later found out. He wasn't thinking about texting his dad after school. They found out when they watched the video Terry recorded just after 3 p.m. on March 6. Their son was in a very dark place.
Terry believed, in those moments, his life wasn't worth living.
There were kids at Covington Middle School, the family alleges, who bullied Terry every day, asking if he shopped at Goodwill, calling him a "fatass," making fun of his shoes, laughing at his haircut, telling him he was worthless.
"I get picked on every (single) day and I hate my life," Terry said in the video. "You can thank (Terry listed his bullies' names) for this." Then Terry turned off the video and put his phone down.
Minutes later, Robyn got home from the gas station and walked into Terry's room. "I pray that no parent ever has to see ...," Robyn said, unable to say the words, "what I saw."
She knew there was "absolutely, not a chance" that the call to 911 would save her son's life. But Robyn called 911 anyway, hysterical and screaming. Then she called Terry's dad at work.
All Badger heard was Robyn shrieking and screaming words he couldn't understand. "The only way I knew what happened,” he said, ”was the city cop got on the phone and he told me."
Badger ran out of work and sped toward his house. He pulled into the driveway of his Covington home and he saw the police officer standing on the porch with tears streaming down his face.
Terry Alan Badger III was dead by suicide, five months short of his fourteenth birthday.
"And there was nothing I could do," Badger said. "I'm still trying to wake up from a nightmare."
'It just overtook him'
Terry and Robyn Badger are sitting on a couch holding hands, wearing red T-shirts with the words "Hittin Dingers TB3 44," the nickname and number for Terry. They are sitting, talking about their son with blankets draped over them. They can't sleep at night, their loss is still so raw and the tears are hard to stop.
Badger's quilt is crafted from jerseys that Terry wore, from the time he stepped onto a baseball field at the age of 2. Robyn's blanket is covered with a massive photo of her and Terry at a baseball tournament last season. He was starting to look like a young man.
Terry was a baseball phenom. There had been talk in Covington about moving Terry up to the varsity team this spring as a seventh grader, said his grandpa, the eldest Terry Badger. He was a third baseman and pitcher who could throw 71 miles an hour and who batted .400 last season, including a home run that sailed more than 300 feet.
Terry had 27 home runs in his career. He signed and saved every one of those balls. He had too many championship trophies to count, too many to fit on the shelves in his bedroom. Terry was looking forward to the upcoming season playing for Indiana Nitro Gold, the top travel team in the Westfield organization's 13U age division.
The Badgers had so many hopes and dreams for their only son. But now they have one horrific memory, a memory they are fighting to keep from overshadowing all the good ones.
Terry and Robyn will never go back to live in that house, the white house with a green and yellow bird feeder hanging on a tree in the front yard and a creek flowing in the back, a creek where Terry loved to set minnow traps and one day came home with a family of snakes.
That house, it once was filled with so much happiness. Now it only brings heartache.
The Badgers are living with Terry's grandparents, Terry and Mary Badger, as they look for a new home. "I can't go back in there," said Robyn. Not after what she saw.
Terry and Robyn said they knew their son was being bullied. He talked to them about it. "I just tried to make him stronger, you know, let that stuff go, take it as a grain of salt, walk away, that kind of thing," Badger said. "And it just overtook him."
There was the time Terry got a haircut, went to school the next day and was taunted. That night at 11 p.m. he told his dad he needed a different haircut. "I'm like 'Buddy, I'm not cutting your hair. There is nothing wrong with it,’" Badger said. "'It's fine.'"
Terry knew it wasn't fine, not if he didn't change something. "Dad, I'm not going back to school. I'm not getting made fun of anymore," he said. Badger re-cut Terry's hair as the clock neared midnight so he would go back to school. The kids found something else to pick on.
His $150 pair of Nike Air Max shoes. The kids made fun of those. Terry came home from school furious, threw them into his closet and never wore them again, his parents said.
Not wearing those shoes didn't stop the taunts. Terry was 5-3 and weighed 150 pounds. He and his dad had recently started lifting together and "you could see the chisel and the chest starting to form," Badger said, "just a solid chunk of boy."
That's not what the kids who bullied Terry called him. They called him a "fatass," his parents say. They made fun of his clothes. One day he wore sweatpants and a Purdue T-shirt, the college baseball team he dreamed of playing for. Nothing was good enough. "Hey, you shopping at Goodwill?" Badger said the kids asked Terry.
When Robyn picked Terry up from school March 6, he was smiling.
"He had a good poker face," Robyn said. "As parents, we asked Terry every day, 'How's school?' You have to really pay attention. You don't have a clue what's really going on inside of their heads ... until it's too late."
'I hope it stops all the hate'
The bullying started when Terry was young, in elementary school, his parents say. It was severe enough in middle school that Badger had a meeting with Covington school officials to see what could be done to make things better for his son.
That meeting might as well have not happened, the family says. The kids continued to torment Terry.
IndyStar reached out to Brady Scott, superintendent of Covington Community School Corporation, and asked if officials at the middle school were aware Terry was being bullied and, if so, had anything been done to help Terry, to prevent the bullying.
"Regarding (the bullying allegations), we have responded to those allegations by launching an independent investigation into the situation at hand," Scott wrote in an email to IndyStar. "At Covington Schools, anytime an incident is reported by students, we investigate and follow up as our policy directs our staff should."
Scott said the school community "continues to mourn and heal from this tragedy. Covington schools continue to provide support to both students and staff in need."
When asked if any changes were being made in school policies for bully prevention due to Terry’s death, Scott responded: "Any potential changes that could come about would be a reflection of our independent investigation. Covington Schools is always looking for areas in all facets for continual improvement.
"Lastly, we continue to support one another through this tragedy and mourn the loss of one of our own. We also recognize that there is a student mental health crisis, not only in Covington, but across the country that we will continue to help our students deal with moving forward."
The visitation for Terry was held at noon March 12 at the Covington Middle School gym. The family asked attendees to wear sports gear or their favorite team's shirt to celebrate Terry's life.
"People were lined up two blocks back from the gym and it was that way for four hours," Badger said. "It was definitely overwhelming, but we appreciated everything and I know he did, too."
Badger said at his son's funeral, the family heard stories of all the wonderful things Terry had done, many they didn't know about. Since his death, they have received dozens of letters, emails and phone calls.
"The day after, I mean the day after, we had a parent contact us that their son (a junior at Covington High) had said the same thing," Badger said. That his life wasn't worth living. Terry saved their son's life, the parents told Badger.
Terry's grave is in Mount Hope Cemetery in Covington. Tony Badger, Terry's uncle, picked out his plot. No one else in the family could bring themselves to do it.
The mound of fresh earth is covered now by mementos of Terry's life. A baseball created from white and red roses sits on a stand draped by a black ribbon that reads: "Remember TB3 No. 44Ever."
On the grave is a Wiffle Ball. Terry loved to crush that ball in the backyard with his cousins. There is a baseball and a miniature basketball. Terry was a point guard who could read the court like no one else, said his grandpa.
Terry's grave backs up to sprawling farm fields. "Here, he gets to see both fields all the way around, have deer coming through all the time," said Tony. "He would love it here."
Terry loved to hunt deer. He got an 8-point buck with a crossbow this season. He loved to hunt squirrels, mushrooms and wanted to hunt coyotes. He loved to fish. He still holds the family record, a 41-pound catfish. He loved the Crunchwrap Supremes from Taco Bell. He loved singing in the shower. He loved life.
Until he walked into school.
'I watched my brother's soul leave his body that day'
Uncle Tony is pissed. Excuse his language. He is angry. He hasn't had time to truly grieve the loss of a nephew he called T-Money who was "the best kid you would ever meet."
He isn't mad at Terry for what he did. He is mad about everything leading up to that afternoon. He is mad at the people who failed Terry. He is mad that a kid who always wanted to help everyone else, whose dream of playing for the St. Louis Cardinals wasn't that far fetched, who made people feel like the world was a happy place, could be gone from this earth.
Tony is mad that as he stood in front of the house where Terry took his life, he looked at his brother "and I watched my brother's soul leave his body that day."
Tony said he asks himself over and over, "Why in the (expletive) didn't he call me that day? Like why didn't he call and say, 'Hey Uncle Tony, can I come over?'"
He has been fighting to come to terms with all of it as he tries to be a rock for his brother, Robyn and Terry's older sister, Zoe. As he tries to be there for his wife, Summer, and their three children who adored their cousin Terry. And as he tries to be there for his parents, who should never have lost a grandson.
Tony sat in his truck pulled on the side of a street overlooking Covington Youth Baseball's major league field on an early morning last week, where a video board flashed photos of Terry.
The photos were put up for a march the town of 2,700 people held in memory of Terry just days after his death. Three street blocks full of people marched through Covington down to the baseball fields, where a candlelight vigil was held and 44 balloons were set off.
Tony sat above that field last week, stared at the video board and listened to Terry's favorite song, "Dear Sons," by Hosier.
Dad, why does things happen in life the way they do? I don't know, son, but remember this. Everything in life happens for a reason
Stand strong, my sons, and always be great. Listen up and pay attention. Don't listen to what the naysayers say
That song, which was played at Terry's funeral, the words to that song "sound just like T-Money," Tony said. The naysayers. Stand strong. Why do things happen in life.
If his parents could talk to Terry one more time, his dad said he would tell him how much he loved him.
"Yes," Robyn said. "I would squeeze him as hard as I could and just smell him, take in his smell."
'He was going to take care of mom and dad'
Terry was born in Danville, Ill., 12 miles from Covington, weighing 5 pounds, 3 ounces. He was a tiny being who grew big and strong and, who his parents say, made a monstrous impact.
He loved to make people laugh, said Robyn. And he loved meeting new people, said Badger.
"He would shake your hand and ask your name and he would wait for you to say just a little thing about you that he would remember," Terry's dad says, crying. "He touched several people in many different ways."
After Terry's death, his teammates told Badger life lessons they learned from Terry, "how to be strong and work through adversity, how to work through mistakes."
There was the baseball game when Terry's team was down 15 or 16 runs, ready for their last at bat in the bottom of the last inning. "I wasn't in the dugout, but a couple of kids have told me that we were down, our heads were down, we weren't talking," Badger said. "And Terry came in the dugout and told them, 'Get up. We're going to win this game.' And we came back and won."
Those teammates said Terry taught them "that there is always a positive out of a negative, how to be friends, how to be a team, how to laugh, how to love and how to have fun," Badger said. "And how to dream."
Terry had big dreams for his modest family. Badger is a mechanical tech. Robyn is a manger at McDonald's. Terry had plans to make life better for his parents.
"He was going to the MLB to play for the Cardinals," Robyn said. "He was going to take care of mom and dad. He said that ever since he was little."
Terry always asked his parents what kind of car they wanted when he became a professional baseball player. He wanted a Lamborghini.
"He always asked if we wanted to live by ourselves or live in the basement of his house," Badger said. "He always had different things on his mind but it was always about family. It was always about trying to take care of somebody."
And that is why Terry's death, and how he died, is such a cruel, tragic irony for the family.
"He was always trying to be the protector," his dad said. "If he saw kids getting picked on, he would stop that. He didn't like it. He wanted to be friends with everybody and just go out and play."
'I just wish that I could talk to you again, somehow, some way'
"That was his last bat," Robyn says, pointing to Terry's brand new white bat lying on the living room floor next to a pair of new white batting gloves. Terry had picked it out just weeks before he died. He never got to use that bat.
Terry has come to Badger in a dream just one time since he died. "The only thing he said to me was, 'I miss you coach.'" Badger coached so many of his son's teams. And he plans to coach again.
"That's what he wants me to do," he said. "I've got to do it for him and his buddies, his Nitro team."
Beyond all the sadness, the Badgers say, there is some peace in knowing that Terry isn't hurting every day, feeling so badly about himself.
"I know he's not struggling anymore and he's happy, he's got friends there," Badger said. "He's able to play baseball on a golden field."
The Badgers are faithful people. They believe they will see their son again. "He'll be waiting on us," Badger said, "with his hand out."
Terry's parents have a song they listen to over and over, "Beat You There," by Will Dempsey. It brings them great comfort.
Don't cry for me; I'm alright; Yeah, I'm better than you know And this life can be a shorter ride; So don't waste it on sorrow And just hold on to those moments; And the memories we shared We're both headed for the same place anyway I just beat you there
The Badger family is pushing for Indiana lawmakers to pass House Bill 1483, authored by Rep. Vernon Smith.
The bill aims to prohibit bullying in schools and requires, among other things, that the school corporation report an act of bullying to the parents of the victim within three business days and the parents of an alleged perpetrator within five business days after the incident is reported.
The school corporation, after determining the severity of an incident of bullying, could be required to approve the transfer of a victim or the alleged perpetrator of an act of bullying to another school under certain circumstances.
"The bill, it's our future. It should mean way more than anything right now to us," Badger said. "As an adult, as a nation, it's our future and we've got to do something now."
Donations in honor of Terry can be made to The Fountain Trust Company. Checks should be made payable to "FBO Terry Badger III" and mailed to the bank at 615 3rd St., Covington, IN, 47932.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Baseball phenom, 13, dies by suicide. His parents say he was bullied