An eighth grade student at Florence Elementary School in Florence, AZ was removed from school after showing signs of depression and sending suicidal text messages post break-up with his girlfriend. What the local media chose to focus on was a copy of Tsugumi Obha’s popular manga series Death Note, which contained the student’s own list of names of people he would allegedly like to see come to harm. Although the student had no intentions of harming anyone and no students were injured, misunderstanding of the manga title that inspired the death note displays unawareness on the part of school administrators and journalists.
The media reports refer to the student’s list as a “hit list,” while acknowledging in the same breath that there were no direct or implied threats in the document. Florence Police Chief Daniel Hughes even stated that he didn’t consider the list a threat whatsoever and that the student had no access to weapons. Additionally, the parents of the student had already arranged treatment for their struggling child, voluntarily keeping him home from school after they noticed signs of distress over the weekend.
Fox 10 ran a video covering the story, in which a school administrator holds the book up backwards, indicating clear disconnect from the comic. Although no reports have come out directly blaming the book as the cause of the student’s depression or anger, implicating the title with words like “hit list” brings unnecessarily negative attention to Death Note.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that the popular manga has been linked to controversy. In 2005, the book was banned from schools in Shenyang, China, due to students recreating death notes of their own. Students in South Carolina, Alabama, Washington, and Illinois were suspended from their schools for possession of death notes. While swift and immediate attention must be paid to any legitimate threats of violence in schools, jumping to conclusions about the intentions of frustrated (or joking) teenagers is creating it’s own sort of problems.
In the Florence case, it seems as though the child’s parents were involved enough to recognize his need for help before anything escalated and took appropriate actions without blaming a source of entertainment. The school has not confirmed if any disciplinary action will be taken against the student for creating the death note, although it appears unlikely.
Casey Gilly is a Contributing Editor for CBLDF, a Staff Writer for Comic Book Resources and, most importantly, a cat enthusiast.