SANTA ANA, Calif. -- An investigation has been launched into whether a 10-year-old girl who apparently killed herself at a home in Southern California was the victim of bullying, officials said Tuesday.
Officers responded to the residence after the child was discovered dead by her 9-year-old sister on Sunday night, according to Santa Ana Police Department Cpl. Anthony Bertagna.
Her death appeared to be a suicide, Bertagna said. He added that to his knowledge, she did not leave a note.
Family identified the girl as Allison Wendel. Her cousin, Bonnie Mesinas, said the death came as a shock.
“She was a beautiful little girl full of happiness, and she was always smiling,” Mesinas said.
Detectives are working with the Orange County Coroner's Office to determine what led to the child's death.
“As part of that investigation, we have heard the rumors that there may have been some bullying involved," Bertagna said. "Obviously we need to investigate that. At this point, we don’t know what happened.”
Wendel was a student at Hazard Elementary School in Santa Ana, and the Garden Grove Unified School District is assisting in the investigation.
A moment of silence was held at the district's board meeting Tuesday.
Investigators will look into Wendel's electronic devices and social media, and also interview her friends to determine if she was bullied.
Students at the school on Tuesday said they knew Wendel and that she was being bullied because it was posted on social media.
If bullying was a factor, Bertagna said police would have to determine who did the bullying and look at their ages to decide whether they faced any charges.
"Those are all things we would have to submit to the district attorney," he said. "Because of the age, that would be an issue."
In a statement, district officials noted its schools have longstanding positive behavior interventions and support programs, and are proactive in promoting a "positive school culture."
"Hazard Elementary, as well as the district as a whole, are committed to our district’s Goal 2, developing personal skills in students, which includes their socio-emotional wellness and a warm and welcoming climate at school," the statement read.
"Recently, the district launched a Choose Wellness Campaign aimed at increasing awareness and ensuring all students, staff, and families have access to mental health and wellness support.
"Our district has a plethora of mental health resources and is committed to ensuring all students have a safe place to turn for emotional support."
Crisis counselors are on hand to assist students and staff, according to the statement.
A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to raise funds for Wendel's funeral and counseling for her 9-year-old sister.
If you need tips on how to start a conversation about mental health with someone you care about, go to www.letstalkco.org.
If you are concerned about someone in your life, you can call the Colorado Crisis Hotline at 844-493-8255.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255): Speak with someone who will provide free and confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week. To learn how to help someone in crisis, call the same number.
Colorado Crisis Services Hotline (1-844-493-8255): If you are in crisis or need help dealing with one, call 1-844-493-8255 or text “TALK” to 38255 to speak to a trained professional. When calling Colorado Crisis Services, you will be connected to a crisis counselor or trained professional with a master’s or doctoral degree.
The Trevor Project (1-866-488-7386): A 24/7 resource for LGBT youth struggling with a crisis or suicidal thoughts. The line is staffed by trained counselors.
Colorado Crisis Services Walk-In Locations: Walk-in crisis service centers are open 24/7, and offer confidential, in-person crisis support, information and referrals to anyone in need.
Colorado Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline: (1-844-264-5437): The best resource for readers to report suspected child abuse and neglect.
The number serves as a direct, immediate and efficient route to all of Colorado’s 64 counties and two tribal nations, which are responsible for accepting and responding to child abuse and neglect concerns. All callers are able to speak with a call taker 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.