Darnell "Dynasty" Young's classmates at Tech High School cursed at him in the school hallways and taunted him with homophobic slurs.
They followed him home from his bus stop and threatened to beat him up.
One night, as he walked home from his after-school job, they threw rocks at him.
When the 17-year-old and his mother, Chelisa Grimes, told school officials, she said, teachers and administrators seemed to blame Young for being openly gay.
His behavior and the way he dressed called attention to himself, they said.
He accessorized his outfits with his mother's purses and jewelry. And he loved to dance.
His dance routine to Beyonce's "Single Ladies" won second place at Tech's talent show in December.
"They said that the problem was he was too flamboyant, with his bags and his purses and his rings," Grimes said.
Desperate to protect her son from bullies, Grimes gave him a stun gun to carry, just in case.
"I had to do something," she said. "They throw bottles and rocks at him."
Now Young faces expulsion from school.
"It has been a nightmare," Grimes said. "I'm trying to fight for my baby's education."
Young's story is one that could unfold in countless schools across America.
One-fourth of teenagers say they have been bullied, according to Stomp Out Bullying, a national advocacy program. Nine of 10 gay students say they have been harassed at school or online.
Add a parent who feels powerless and policies designed to keep weapons out of schools, and the questions pile up fast.
How can parents protect their children from bullying? Is self-defense a valid excuse for violating school rules? Where does a school's responsibility begin and end?
For Young, such questions could arise in an expulsion meeting today. But the most important question will be whether he deserves to be punished for trying to defend himself.
Even experts have a hard time finding answers.
Hank Nuwer, a professor at Franklin College who has written books about bullying and hazing, said he hears from desperate parents at least once or twice a week. However, he said, he's not sure there's a good solution to their problem. Arming children with stun guns certainly isn't appropriate, he said.
"It's one of the more complex situations today," Nuwer said. "There are sometimes no answers."
'It always got worse'
Grimes said she knew Young was gay even when he was a little boy. His personality differed from that of his twin brother, Darrell, and an older brother. He would want to put on her makeup and shoes, and his brothers would get mad and tell him not to do that. She said she always was supportive of his sexuality.
"Everybody in my family knew he was (gay), so we just loved him," she said.
Young lived with his mother until he was 7 and then lived in Arizona with his dad for about 10 years.
He became openly gay as a freshman in high school.
In Arizona, some of his classmates called him names such as "gay boy," but most accepted him and his sexuality, Young said.
Bullying was not a problem until he moved back in with his mother in Indianapolis and started at Tech last fall, he said.
When he arrived at the school, his new classmates were more confrontational. His outgoing personality and unique accessories made him stand out from the other students. Even some of the other gay students were unfriendly, he said.
The bullying started in October, he said.
"All day I'd be on my guard," he said. "It never got better. It always got worse."
Young broke down in tears when a rumor circulated that he performed sex acts in the bathrooms.
He said he thought about committing suicide.
His grades already had slipped from A's and B's to F's, and Grimes said he was losing weight. His problems at school seeped into his home life. He said the stress at school did not go away when he got home, so he would fight with his mother and siblings. He moved in with a friend and started missing school. More than a month later, he moved back with his mother and tried to get a fresh start at Tech.
But the bullying continued, Young said. It happened every day.
Students would bump into him in the hallways on purpose and call him names. Sometimes, they would taunt him in class.
Indiana law defines bullying as words or actions that are intended "to harass, ridicule, humiliate, intimidate or harm," so students do not have to be physically hurt to claim that they were bullied.
Indianapolis Public Schools' bullying policy says administrators have to tell students that bullying "will not be tolerated." The policy also says administrators are responsible for investigating "complaints, allegations or rumors of bullying."
Young and his mother said they told the school about the bullying more than 10 times, but Young said Tech did not formally investigate their complaints except for once when a student who taunted him during class was taken to the dean's office and punished.
Grimes said she called the school about students following Young home from the bus stop, but school officials said they could not do anything since the students were not on school property. When she complained other times, they brought up his sexuality.
Larry Yarrell, the Tech principal, said school staff were trying to help Young by suggesting that he "tone down" his accessories.
"If you wear female apparel, then kids are kids and they're going to say whatever it is that they want to say," Yarrell said. "Because you want to be different and because you choose to wear female apparel, it may happen. In the idealistic society, it shouldn't matter. People should be able to wear what they want to wear."
However, he said, no one was trying to blame Young for the bullying.
"They're just trying to make his transition over here as easy as they possibly can," he said. "They've said, 'If you're going to dress the way you're dressing, people are going to say things. If you could tone it down as much as possible, then people won't have as much to say.' "
Yarrell said the school tried to investigate Young's complaints, but Young could not always identify the students who bullied him. Administrators have to be sure that students did something wrong before they can punish them, he said.
"In my opinion," Yarrell said, "if we had known who the perpetrators were, the aggressors were, we would've dealt with them immediately."
But Grimes said they didn't do enough to make sure her son was safe.
"If they weren't going to protect him," she said, "I'll protect him."
One day, Young cried when Grimes asked him how his day was. He said the bullying was constant.
That's when Grimes decided that she was tired of calling the school and having the same conversation over and over.
She said she did not want to give him a gun or a knife, but something that would scare people if they tried to attack him. She settled on a stun gun because it did not seem as dangerous.
The small weapons come in a range of voltages. They do not shoot bullets but give an electric shock that temporarily incapacitates people. Unlike Tasers, they don't have barbs that shoot out of the gun and embed in people's flesh. Instead, the shooter must place the gun on or close to people to shock them. They're not considered deadly under Indiana law, but they are not allowed on school property.
Grimes said she knew that, but she let Young take the stun gun to school anyway because she feared for his safety.
She said she thought Young could use the stun gun to scare off bullies without shocking them. Firing the stun gun into the air makes a loud clicking sound, which can be intimidating.
"We're not trying to hurt anyone," she said. "We're just trying to protect him."
Young said he carried the stun gun in his backpack for a few weeks without using it.
On April 16, as Young walked between class buildings during a passing period, six students surrounded him. They called him names, cursed and threatened to beat him up, Young said.
He pulled out the stun gun, pointed it in the air and fired it so it would make the noise. He said the students backed off, and he went to his next class.
Minutes later, school police officers came into his class, cuffed him and found the stun gun.
He was suspended and recommended for expulsion.
Punishment that fits
Young will have an expulsion meeting today, which will be closed to the public.
The school and Young will give their accounts of what happened before an independent arbitrator. The arbitrator will review the case and make a decision within a few days. The decision can be appealed to the School Board and to the courts if necessary.
The district also could refer Young's case to the Marion County prosecutor's office.
In Indiana, people must be 18 to possess a stun gun. It is a misdemeanor to give a stun gun to a minor. Grimes said she didn't know that when she bought the stun gun.
Yarrell said the school doesn't plan to refer Young's case to the prosecutor, even though officials are recommending expulsion.
Grimes said that if Young is expelled, she will appeal. Young is a good student, she said, and it's unfair for him to be punished for trying to protect himself.
"I plan to tell them that my child has a right to go to school and get an education and be safe," she said. "We have the right to protect ourselves. We just do."
But Yarrell said he thinks it's clear that Young broke the rules.
"It's law," he said. "He was in possession of a weapon."
But the issues Young's case raises are more complicated, said attorney Karen Celestino-Horseman, who has handled juvenile justice cases, as well as civil rights cases.
"Technically, the young man should not carry a (stun gun) onto school property," she said. "No parent should ever think it's OK to give their child a weapon to take to school."
But, she said, "the school has an obligation to keep these kids safe, especially when the potential for harm is pointed out to them. . . . If this child was going to school and felt that he had to carry a weapon with him to be safe, then no, I don't think the school was handling it well."
She said she doesn't think Young should be expelled because that would create more problems in his life. He should be allowed to go back to school and finish his education because he was a good student and wanted to learn.
She said the incident doesn't warrant criminal charges, either.
"I think he actually demonstrated pretty good judgment in holding (the stun gun) up in the air and not having it anywhere close to anybody," she said.
Nuwer, the bullying expert, agreed that the situation is complicated.
"You see the parent's point of view: 'What am I going to do? Hire a bodyguard?' " he said.
But he said parents who arm their children are "asking for an eventuality."
"As much as I feel sympathy for (Young), . . . you have to leave it in the hands of law enforcement," Nuwer said.
He said he thinks the school should expel Young.
"It breaks your heart," Nuwer said, "but I don't see that they have a choice."
The students who threatened Young might not face any punishment.
Young and other witnesses were not able to identify the students who surrounded him, and the school's investigation hasn't yielded any leads, Yarrell said.
None of the witnesses was able to give descriptions of the students that were specific enough to help the school track them down. They did, however, support Young's story that the students approached him, he said.
Young said he told administrators where the students typically gathered on the campus, but Yarrell said that information wasn't particularly useful because lots of students gather throughout the campus.
"I spent hours trying to figure out and find out who the perpetrators were," Yarrell said. "I ran up on dead ends because no one could give me a description."
The school has several surveillance cameras on the property, but none of them was pointed at the location where the incident occurred.
The school has interviewed students and teachers about it and will continue to look for leads, Yarrell said.
"I deal with all bullying, and I take it very seriously," Yarrell said. "I've been a big disciplinarian. Your school climate's not worth a quarter if you don't have good discipline."
Celestino-Horseman said she's not surprised that the other students will back Young's story but will say they can't identify the alleged bullies.
"They're not willing to, quote, 'rat out' the other students," she said. "That's pretty common. They don't want to become the subject of these kids' bad attention."
But any good investigator should know how to persuade at least one student to confidentially say who might be to blame, she said.
If nothing else, Young and Grimes said, they hope his story can help educate people about bullying and sexuality. They said they want to send the message that it's OK to be different from others.
"God gave me this life," Young said. "I love life. I'm trying to be strong."