Over the Edge

The suicide of a 14-year-old boy

Victoria Felton died in 2000, and afterward Sidney saw his father far less often. Peanut had always been a drinker, and he had suffered brain damage after being hit in the head with a bat on a Bronx street. In the months following his mother's death, Peanut spent days inside her apartment, surrounded by empty 40-ounce bottles of St. Ides. "Peanut got lost in the head," his sister Gina Felton says. "He'd sit in the apartment all day drinking, watching TV, listening to the radio." Peanut stopped paying rent and lost the apartment. Eventually he too entered the shelter system.

The last time Peanut's siblings saw him was in August, when he showed up at a family barbecue. Besides drinking too much, Peanut suffers from chronic seizures. In October, Gina brought his photo to the Fort Washington Armory, the shelter in Washington Heights where he had been staying. She says she found a few men who recognized Peanut, and that one of them told her they'd last seen him leaving the shelter in an ambulance. She contacted the police and called around to local hospitals, but has not been able to find him.

Relations between Sidney's parents had been strained for a long time. Keisha says the last time she saw Peanut he promised to show up for Sidney's sixth-grade graduation, but never did. A week before Sidney jumped in the river, one of Peanut's sisters called apartment 19L and talked to him about his father. Keisha remembers the call coming into the apartment, but she says she only learned that Sidney's father had disappeared after Sidney died.

A memorial for Sidney, March 10, 2006
photo: Giulietta Verdon-Roe
A memorial for Sidney, March 10, 2006

Among Peanut's relatives, Sidney's suicide stirred up memories of two other tragic deaths. Peanut's father—Sidney's grandfather, also named Sidney Hatchett— died about 20 years ago when he fell from a tenement building in the Bronx. Nobody knew for certain whether he jumped or was pushed. According to Gina Felton, little Sidney's great-grandfather died in a similar way, leaping from a building. In his case, she says, the family had little doubt that it was a suicide.

Sidney's funeral was scheduled to start at 10 a.m., and by then nearly every seat was filled. About 60 people showed up—friends, relatives, classmates. Just before 10, Keisha Davis walked to the front and gazed down at her son. She placed her head inside the casket, leaned her cheek against his, pressed her lips to his face. Eventually she turned around and took a seat in the front row. The funeral lasted only a few minutes—it included one reading from the Bible but no speeches or songs—and then everyone filed past the coffin to say goodbye.

By 10:25 a.m. Sidney's casket was in the back of a silver hearse, traveling down Madison Street. As the motorcade headed off to a cemetery in New Jersey, most of the funeral-goers remained on the sidewalk, clustered in small groups, whispering to one another. It was an exceptionally warm day—the temperature was almost 70 degrees—and everyone was trying to find an answer to the same question, trying to figure out why Sidney Hatchett had thrown himself in the river.


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