Eleven-year-old Michael Morones is a passionate boy. He idolizes his Uncle Jimmy, who is a proud member of the Bronies. The term Brony is a portmanteau that refers to fanboys of My Little Pony (“bro ponies”), although girls can be Bronies too.
Michael’s favorite character is Pinkie Pie, a hyper excitable pony. The little boy, who has ADHD and rarely sits still for a minute, feels a connection to bouncy Pinkie Pie. His Uncle Jimmy taught him to be proud of his interests, and the boy has frequently worn Brony dogtags and Brony bracelets to school.
A group of his peers at school have been taunting and bullying the boy about his fandom. His stepfather, Shannon Suttle, said, “Michael was upset because the kids were calling him gay for liking a girls’ TV show. His mom and I, well, we told him that it didn’t matter what other people think. It only matters what he thinks.”
Nobody stood up for Michael, but he seemed to be doing okay. “Michael is deeply religious, and he turned to his faith. He asked to start taking confirmation classes, and he carried a little Bible with him everywhere. He told us that he would sit at a table at lunchtime and recite Bible verses to himself, and it brought him great joy,” Suttle said.
In addition to his religion and his love of My Little Pony, Michael has other keen interests. After watching violinist Lindsey Stirling perform, he was so enraptured that he decided to take up violin lessons. He avidly follows Stirling’s music career and is now dedicated to practicing on his own violin. He also loves the music of Pentatonix, an a cappella group that has captured his heart. Outwardly, he appeared to be coping okay with the taunting and talked about it with his family.
“A few weeks ago, Michael told us he wanted to take the bus straight home after school, instead of going to the boys and girls club with the other kids,” Suttle explained, “and at the time, we thought it was because he wanted a chance to have the TV to himself for a couple hours before his brothers came home.“ Michael has a 13-year-old brother and a 5-year-old brother. The family only has one TV, so the boys tend to argue over what they watch.
“But now,” Suttle said quietly, “I wonder about why he wanted to come home instead of being with the other kids. He said to us that the other kids were telling him he was gay for loving Pinkie Pie and they were trying to make him feel ashamed for being gay. We said that we didn’t care if he was gay or straight; he was our son and we would love him.”
On Thursday, January 23, Michael had another rough day at school. That night, he attempted suicide by hanging himself.
Michael is in the pediatric intensive care unit in a North Carolina hospital. He has damage to his brain, his heart, and his lungs and has not yet fully awakened. There is healing potential, but the extent of that potential is unknown. His family is holding vigil, praying that the swelling in his brain will go down and the child will become coherent. A tracheotomy is scheduled for this week.
The outpouring of support from the Bronies community has astonished the family. Suttle left a message for Andrea Libman, who does the voice of Pinkie Pie, asking if she might send a message of support to Michael. Libman was in South Australia on vacation, and she found a way to record a personal message for Suttle to play for Michael. In addition, she got every member of the cast to record individual messages for the boy.
“When we play the My Little Pony messages for him, there is increased activity on the EEG,” Suttle said.
The broader Geek community has also surrounded the family with support. I was contacted by a member of the 501st Legion, the charitable organization that made my young daughter a custom Stormtrooper costume after she was taunted for being a girl who loves Star Wars, and asked if I would help share Michael's story.
"Maybe Michael's purpose was to bring people together, so that this won't happen to another child," Suttle said, his voice catching.
It hurts the heart to think of these young boys and girls, mocked and taunted for the types of toys with which they play. The messages come from our society. Today is Superbowl Sunday. When you watch the big game with your friends and family, offer up a thought for Michael, who was as excited about an episode of My Little Pony as you are about the Superbowl, and remember that there is more than one way to be a boy or a girl.
Let us surround young Michael with support from around the world, so that he may awaken and find a kinder world than the one he tried to leave. If you know Lindsey Stirling, perhaps you can see if she might come play by Michael’s bedside. The beauty of her music may reach him and coax him to give the world another try.
The family struggles financially, and although Michael is on Medicaid, they are faced with massive bills for his care, which will be lifelong.
The CEO of Play Team Trivia, the company that employs Suttle, created a recovery fund for Michael and kicked off the fundraising with a $500 donation from his own pocket.
To help with the enormous costs of Michael’s care and hopeful rehabilitation, please visit the Michael Morones Foundation. Michael’s family intends to donate a portion of any donations to causes such as brain injury research, bullying prevention, etc.
May Michael recover and continue to bring joy to his family.
Carrie Goldman is the award-winning author of Bullied: What Every Parent, Teacher, and Kid Needs to Know About Ending the Cycle of Fear.