Parents Speak Out After 16-Year-Old Daughter Dies by Suicide Before Start of Senior Year

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Parents Cheryl and Hunter Brown are hoping to inspire other teens to be compassionate to others after their daughter, McKenna, died by suicide earlier this month after being bullied.

The Florida couple told FOX affiliate WTVT that the 16-year-old took her own life on Aug. 7, just days before starting her senior year at East Lake High School in Tarpon Springs.

McKenna, a hockey player at the school, had allegedly been the target of cyberbullying as well as "physical, sexual, emotional abuse," Cheryl and Hunter told the news station.

"She made a couple mistakes," Hunter said, before claiming his daughter had been "blackmailed" and "bullied."

"She was broken," he continued. "She was hurt. She was alone. She felt like she didn't belong, but she chose to suffer in silence because she never said, 'I need help.' "

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The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office is conducting an "open investigation" into McKenna's death, and PEOPLE has reached out to the department for updates.

According to McKenna's obituary, she loved "life, her family, God, hockey, The Chapel, her teammates, and friends." A memorial for her was held on Aug. 13 at a church in Trinity.

"She is survived by her older brother, friend, and mentor MacCallum," her obituary said. "She was a best friend and advocate to her sister McKinley."

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The family asked for donations to be made to either the BU CTE Brain Bank or the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

Cheryl and Hunter told WTVT that McKenna was a bright light in their lives.

"She just, she brought everybody in and connected everybody," Hunter said. "She was the glue that held a lot of groups together, including our family."

Cheryl added: "She lit everything up when she walked in a room. Hilarious. Witty."

The couple hopes they can inspire other high school students to be kind to their peers.

"When you see somebody who is being ostracized or alone or just needs a little hug, pick me up," Hunter told the outlet, "you know, reach out to them."

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741741 or go to 988lifeline.org.

If you or someone you know needs mental health help, text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 to be connected to a certified crisis counselor.