MOUNT PLEASANT MILLS - A song by a popular music icon describes a "social disease." Such a disease exists in this area, according to family members of one beloved young man.
Madonna's song "Nobody Knows Me" will be performed during her upcoming summer tour with a back drop of images behind the mega star as she belts the lyrics. Among those images are photographs of teens who committed suicide as a result of the emotional impact of bullying.
Mount Pleasant Mills teen Brandon Bitner's face will appear on the screen. His black hair cascading over one eye as he clutches his violin, his Gothic-style cross hanging over the instrument. The vision of the then-14-year-old staring directly at the camera will be in the minds of millions across the world as they then see his name and date of death on the same screen.
Brandon Bitner, a Midd-West High School freshman who committed suicide last year, will have his photo featured as part of Madonna’s world tour. Her song ‘Nobody Knows Me’ will include photos of teens who killed themselves after experiencing bullying, including that of Bitner.
Brandon Bitner walked in front of a Weis Market tractor trailer along U.S. 11/15 during the early morning hours of Nov. 5, 2011, according to a police report, but it was no accident. He had left a note for his mom, Tammy Simpson, on the family's home computer.
Simpson was interviewed for a video used in a thesis for New York University student Crystal Bell. The video appears on the website named for Brandon. In the video she speaks of the details of the morning she discovered her son had planned his death.
Simpson said in the video, the police officer who showed up at her door told her "Brandon wrote his name and address with a Sharpie marker on his arm" for the purpose of identification. He wrote something else that morning that has impacted people worldwide.
Bitner's letter to his mother had one specific request. He wanted his family and friends to let the community and the world know that bullying needs to stop. Since his death, Simpson and many others including Bitner's cousin Katie Goodling, have been actively doing what they can to spread the word.
The word spread so well that a freelance videographer in Sweden who happens to work with Madonna saw Brandon's story and wanted to keep the message going in a dramatic form.
Goodling had created the website www.brandonbitner.com, a site devoted to raising awareness of bullying and sharing Brandon's personal story.
"I think Brandon's story has gone global because his exit from this world was very dramatic and planned out. Brandon had a mission and we were left to carry it out," Goodling said, "His story is very relatable and what I have found since running the website is there are so many people out there just like him. I can't tell you the number of times I have heard, 'wow, that could have been me,' or 'I was in the same place Brandon was. ...'"
Brandon was a freshman at Midd-West High School when he took his own life. He wrote in his note to his mother of physical and verbal abuse at the hands of his peers. He wrote that he felt no one clearly recognized the significance it had on him emotionally.
The teen, who wore black, gothic-style clothing and makeup was quiet and a violinist. His demeanor and appearance apparently did not sit well with some in the student body. Various cases of being shoved, hit, and called names suggesting he was gay because of his appearance caused severe emotional trauma to the boy - feelings hurt so deeply that he planned the end of his life, Bitner wrote.
Ronnit Hasson, the representative from the production company, shared intentions of the video with Goodling in an email stating "(the song) is a critique to social pressures to be and act a certain way. A sequence of the video draws reference to known cases of teenage suicide as a result of bullying and a general non-acceptance in society. The outline for this sequence is to show seven portraits for two to three seconds each, displaying a RIP sign along with their names and we would like to include Brandon as one of them, if we have their blessing."
Simpson gave the blessing after Goodling heavily researched the legitimacy of the company. The Madonna MDNA tour begins May 31 in Tel Aviv, Israel and continues throughout Europe.
The North American leg of the tour begins Aug. 28 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. The tour stops at Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. on Sept. 23-24 and Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh on Nov. 6. A complete listing is found at www.madonna.com/tour/.
The expenses may determine whether or not local folks - including the family - will be able to attend any of the shows, Goodling said.
While Simpson said Brandon was not a huge Madonna fan, he was a fan of all music, and would be honored to know he is a part of one of her tours in this way.
"I think our situation opens people's eyes because they realized it can happen to the average small town family. It happens everywhere," Goodling said.
"The more we spread the news maybe we can save lives," Simpson added.