Tribute to Detroit Renaissance High School Student Billy Watts: Life and Death played out on Social Media

I didn’t know Billy Watts or his family personally, but when I was alerted to view his social media timeline, I felt immediately connected to him.  Tragically, Billy Watts, 17, a senior at Renaissance High School in Detroit is no longer with us.  Eerily, Billy’s life and death played out in front of thousands via his social media timelines.

In light of last week’s school shooting in Washington and the numerous stories I’ve read or blogged about regarding teens who are crying out for help in social media, I was compelled to have a conversation with my daughter.  We talked about how some teen’s online actions,  become their offline reality.  They are simply saying “look at me,” “please help me.”  Although my child didn’t know him personally, there was a buzz amongst her peers about Billy.  That night she showed me Billy’s social media timeline, and said, “Oh My God, this is exactly what we were talking about,” this is not good.   We began to share the word via social media seeking for help to find him, unfortunately we were all too late.

Looking over Billy’s timeline I can feel his artistic brilliance and his vibrant soul.  By all counts he was a creative, innovate and talented young man.  During his last days, he took his followers through an eloquent journey of his thoughts, life and ultimately his death.

Last night when I heard about his death, I was numb.  I prayed for his family, his peers, his friends and all of our children.  The question, I ask myself is, “Marlin, what can you do, to help?”  At this time in the midst of my shared heart break, the tears, and the love I feel for his family and all of our babies,  I offer this blog in honor of Billy and share some tips with parents and teens, on things you can do to help save the next life.


1.  Do you know what’s going on emotionally with your child offline, in the real world?  What’s their state of mind?  Are they acting differently?  Have they experienced a major life event? Break-ups, low test scores, not being invited to an event, not making a sports team, feeling fat, feeling like they don’t fit in are sometimes major life events for teens.  Ask the questions, get in their business.  Your child might find your conversations annoying, however some teens are simply looking for the opportunity to talk about the ups and downs of their day.

2.  Get in their business. Your child may not share their feelings with you, but more than likely they will share them online.  If your child is on Facebook, you should consider being on Facebook.  If they are tweeting, you should  consider joining twitter.  What photos are they posting on Instagram? You should know.  It is  imperative for parents to be active participants in their children’s online lives. Not to scare you, but their lives could depend on it.  I know, I’ve heard it before, “I don’t want my child to think I don’t trust them or “I believe my child should have some privacy, – and to that I say “No Excuses!”  There’s always a way to make it happen.

3.   Activate your social media village.  I get it, some parents don’t want to engage in social media or feel as if they are spying on their children.  This is where you get creative and ask for help from your friends, family, sorority sisters, fraternity brothers, church members, etc.  For example my daughter is active on two social media sites, but I only follow her on one.  My niece, who is much more hip follows her  and interacts with her on the other social media outlet.  This gives my daughter a sense of freedom, while I still have my “eye on the prize,” through my niece.

4.  Talk, Talk, and Talk again.   Never underestimate the power of communication.  Share stories like Billy’s with your child and discuss what they would do if they saw a friend crying out for help.  Tell them that their lives are worth living, empower them to love themselves, let them know that you love them, hug them, let them know your proud of them, talk about expectations and consequences.  Don’t wait for the perfect time to speak with a child, as there is no such thing as the “perfect time.”  Do it over dinner, on the drive home, at the end of the day, on the way to practice…Just do it.

5.  Do not blame yourself or others.  If you have not been keeping an eye on your child’s online activities for whatever reason; forgive yourself, breathe, stop beating yourself up, and most importantly let’s not judge anyone else as this does not serve any purpose and takes away from what’s important which is, honoring Billy’s life, helping his family, friends, and peers heal, and showing our children that their lives matter. I’ve had way too many conversations with parents who are feeling overwhelmed, wondering if they are missing something, or if they are doing the right things.  HEY… As parents we are all doing our best, we are doing what we know to do.  Think about it:  How many things did you do as a teen that your parents still don’t know about?  We are not going to catch everything and that’s OK.  This is where we truly become a village of love and care, and act “as if” every child is ours!  This is how we help one another out.  SO…no more judgements about yourself or others.  All of our babies matter, and we are in this together.


1.   Your life is valuable…and you are loved.   Please know that there is nothing so horrible, that warrants you taking your life.  Ever heard of that passage, “This too shall pass?”  Whatever it is that makes you feel that life is not worth living, is a LIE!  Whatever it is cannot last forever, it’s just something you’re feeling right now.  Your problems do not define you, they are merely a temporary thing.  You are worth it, the world needs you, you are loved and you are never alone.  Think you can’t talk to anyone, no I don’t know you personally, but if you feel as if you can’t talk to anyone, try me….

2.    Handling cries for help.  First I want you to forgive yourself if you saw a friend crying out for help on Social Media and you couldn’t help them.  Your friends actions are NOT your fault and often times there’s so much more to the story.  Like Maya Angelou said, “When you know better, you do better.”  Moving forward, when you see troubling posts such as, “I feel alone,” “I want to die,” “I have nothing to live for,” “No one cares,” etc., take them seriously.  Call the friend that’s in distress, alert other friends, If you don’t know the person, go ahead and find mutual friends and alert them, contact a family member, or reach out to school officials.   No, it’s not snitching, it’s not being nosy… it’s actually a very caring and loving act, which could save a life.

3.  Create a pact with your friends.   The pact simply should state, “You are not allowed to take your own life.  When things are rough, suicide is not an option.  We are your friends, we care about you, and there’s nothing you can’t share with us.  We have your back, we will see you through this.  Promise that you will call your friends first and we will be here for you.

4.  Be the one.  If there’s a classmate who is different, dresses differently, looks different, talks different, I challenge you to be the one to get to know them.  If you see someone being teased, talked about or bullied, I challenge you to be the one to speak up.  If you see someone who is always alone, I challenge you to invite them into your group.  YOU have the power to change the dialogue.

As I write this blog, I randomly selected a song to immerse myself in and His Eye is on the Sparrow, began playing.  All I can do is smile, because it’s my confirmation that Billy is at rest, and that his death will not be in vain.  RIP Billy…You will be missed.

I’ve just learned that Billy’s family has created the “Billy D. Watts, Jr. Memorial Fund.”  You can contribute at any branch of PNC Bank.


Marlin Page is a Globetrotting Speaker, Founder of Sisters Code, and thought leader on bridging the racial and gender gap in technology and eliminating the digital divide.  As Chief Technology Mommy, Marlin serves as on Online Safety Evangelist exposing “real life” internet and social media stories impacting children around the world and providing practical tips to empower  parents to keep their children safe on the Internet while encouraging teens to use social media responsibly.  Marlin’s book and music CD, “Always Believe,” empowers girls to love themselves, believe in themselves, and celebrate their uniqueness.



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30 Responses to Tribute to Detroit Renaissance High School Student Billy Watts: Life and Death played out on Social Media

  1. Anonymous says:

    I was extremely disturbed with what I saw. This young man was crying out, but no one connected it until his son brought it to my attention when I pick my son up from college. it is sad when oir children cant come to us with there problems. I pray for his family especially his mother.

  2. Anonymous says:

    There is also a hotline that help with teens suicide the number is 1800231127 and there is a 24/7 text line Text “LISTEN” to 741-741. teens parents friends are able to call in or text to reach out for help…i hope this was some help

  3. LISA Williams says:

    Marlin you touched on quite a few things that really hit home with me. Actually my son showed me Billy Watts instagram page, we discussed many of the things you suggested parents talk about with their teens, through this tragic incident I’ve learn things about my child that I had no idea! My heart goes out to Billy’s family, his death has touched and changed quite a few lives for the better but thank you for your blog and the insight and ideas on communicating, how to know what’s going on with our children through social media. May God continue to keep and Bless you.

    • marlin says:

      Lisa, I’m extremely happy to hear that the story opened up dialogue between you and your son! Thank you for your comment and for caring.

  4. Tanea Berry says:

    Parents truly needs to be aware of their child social media life on social media, and always be aware of how their child day went at school each day, especially with their friends. I believe that more schools needs to get connect with DPD Program for Youths which is the GREAT Program, & also the JR Explorers Program as well because these program will help a student to prevent them & as well teach them what to do to avoid a Bullying situation, and to have a positive self-estem within life.

  5. Denise Bozeman says:

    My daughter graduated 2014.. she shared 3 years of German with him. She called me Wednesday night very upset about him committing Suicide and how he did it. She felt like someone should have found him or tracked his phone before he did it. I spent over a hour counseling her by phone because she’s away at school. My child and hundreds of not thousands of children were exposed to this horrible act. I pray that the Government SHUT DOWN HIS PAGE RIGHT NOW.. My daughter sent me the Instagram pics I will forever see him in my mind when I think of him. The Devil is Alive and Busy in believer and nonbelievers lives. The mind is a powerful tool>>Oh Lord I pray for strength to continue to be a women of God and to bring forth goodness and kindness to ALL Generations to come and more people will do the same…. HEAL THIS LAND OH LORD

    • marlin says:

      Yes, Billy’s life and death did play out on social media. I’m not sure if anyone tried to track the phone, but I do know people were looking for him..but it was too late. As we move forward it will be very important to discuss what to do if we see anyone crying out for help on social media. I can’t begin to imagine your daughter’s pain, and she along with all of our babies will be in my prayers. Thank you for reading the post and commenting, but most of all for caring.

    • Anon says:

      Way to make this about your poor little daughter and yourself…boo hoo you are affected to severely. You still have your lives, Billy does not. I hope you know how selfish you sound.

      • marlin says:


        Thank you for your comment… It took me a minute to follow the string of comments, as I thought you were first referring to the blog! First, allow me to thank you for your comments and for reading the blog. In response to your reply to Denise’s comment, I have found that many people have different ways of dealing with incidents like this which have them reflecting on their own lives. I truly believe that the people who are touched by this tragedy are not self-serving, just trying to cope in a way that makes them feel better. Just wanted to share that with you… No, I don’t know Denise personally, but dealing with this tragedy has taught me a great deal about the diverse ways we all handle our pain. Once again, you are appreciated and I thank you for even caring to comment…Your thoughtfulness means a lot. It really does!

  6. Tracey Tallandier says:

    Thank you so much for writing about this young man. My daughter attends RHS and although I never met Billy, my heart is so very heavy for his family, friends, students and staff at RHS. It is so sad that our youth has so much pain and hopelessness in their lives that they feel ending their life is there only solution. I will continue to PRAY for our youth. Thank you again

  7. Cheryl Pope says:

    I heard this story on the radio yesterday. It’s very important for us to talk to our children. Don’t just ask closed ended questions like ‘how was your day?’ Ask them what happened in school. Ask them what is the bullying poicy at their school, etc. Ask questions that won’t just give you yes or no answers but actual dialogue. Visit the school to check out the culture. Meet their friends and their friend’s parents. Have access to their social media pages. Be aware of their moods. Are they not as talkative as they normally are? I pray for this child’s family and friends and for his soul. Thanks for posting.

    • marlin says:

      You make some excellent points! As parents this is we have to make a conscious decision to become further involved in our children’s lives. Often times we don’t truly understand what’s going on in school, the culture, their policies, etc. In this time it’s important we don’t beat up on ourselves for what we didn’t know or see, this is a time to empower one another and do better. This how I choose to keep Billy’s memory alive. Thank you for reading the post and for your comment!

  8. Anonymous says:

    God bless us all, I cried all night when I heard of this
    So young.

  9. Curt Bussiere says:

    Taught at Renaisance HS for 3 years. A beautiful school with so many talented young men and woman. But I left with a broken heart. I am not surprised to hear this. I reported several cases of brutal bullying and think I was just brushed aside. God bless

  10. Curtis Bussiere says:

    I only knew him for a short time as a student of mine. I don’t know all the elements that led up to this horrible end for Mr. Watts but I remember he was bullied in my class and it was by teachers. Bullying is occurring at Renaissance High and much of it is being covered up. Counterfeiting has been ignored as well as young girls confessions of physical and sexual abuse at home. No I am not a disgruntled ex teacher. I love that school there’s just something about the politics of results oriented education that has placed test results and attendance reports above the true well being of those gifted children.

    • marlin says:

      Hi Curt, I can’t speak to Billy being bullied or any politics at the school. However, I really don’t want to overshadow Bill;s life and death with school politics. I want to empower our children to know that their lives are worth living. If you love yourself, know that you are enough, and believe in yourself….then what you have inside of you overpowers any institution. Let’s keep our children in our prayers. Thank you for reading the blog!

  11. Robin Smith says:

    I just wanted to give thanks to you for doing this piece. Lord knows it is much needed. I’m thankful that an App will now serve in this process my hope is that it will serve as a lifeline to someone. Billy’s life though gone too, soon is not in vain. I thank you for opening eyes to the fact that the present is just that (right here right now) but tomorrow brings with it a new day. (Moments are temporary) and yes THIS TOO SHALL PASS. I’m sadden that I couldn’t wrap my arms around this young man and provide him ‘HOPE’ as well ‘KNOWING’ that trouble/loneliness or what appears to be, that of, DOESNT LAST ALWAYS.
    Wholeheartedly I thank you. I too write to uplift, inspire and build self esteem. I believe that once you place knowing under ones feet no one can take it away. Once again thank you. My heart bleeds.

    • marlin says:

      Robin, I appreciate you. Thank you for reading the blog and for caring! Let’s keep our children uplifted in prayer while we remain vigilante about monitoring their online activities.

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  13. Tracey Rubens-Roseboro says:

    My son too is a senior at Renaissance, and said he knew Billy . We discussed Billy today after church, and he showed me his Instagram page. I cant seem to get out of my mind his last post of 12:03, I wonder if my watch is waterproof as I could clearly see him sitting with legs dangling on the rail of the Belle Isle bridge. Marlin, as I am typing this I am literally crying. My heart is so heavy for his family, but more so for Billy. Thinking as a social worker, Billy was reaching out when he intially posted on Instagram the first sucidal ideation, but it went unnoticed. With all this being said, it is paramount that we intuned, aware, on top of, one step in front of what
    is going on with our child. Parents, and village please talk to your child, and keep your precious Gifts from God close and safe. Love your children. No problem is ever too big that you can’t work out together.

    • marlin says:

      Tracey, I appreciate your comment. Billy’s story has touched so many lives, and has made us all more aware of how fragile life is. Yes, this is time to activate our village and act as if every child is ours and empower them to know that their lives are worth living. I’m saddened by Billy’s death, but we can keep his spirit alive by creating this village of accountability and love. Thanks again.

  14. anonymous says:

    I believe that Curtis’ reply to this post is very important Robin. However, I do understand your point as well. Billy is gone and there’s nothing we can do about it at this point, but try to prevent things like this from happening again. How will we ever prevent these things if we don’t handle to most important issues at hand. These issues are the bullying and politics that Curtis pointed out. Pointing these issues out are ways that we can empower our children, and especially the ones that are suffering from this abuse. I graduated from Renaissance High School in 2000 and bullying from teachers and students was very prevalent at that time as well. It never ends, just like racism. That is why we must address those issues. I have family that attends Renaissance now who suffers from bullying as well and are very much affected by Billy’s death. I respect Billy’s life; however, don’t know how I feel about his death. My family and I have been praying for him and his family ever since this tragedy has occurred. However, we can not overshadow his death with these very important issues that these kids are facing everyday. Thank you for the post and I thank Curtis Bussiere for his comments.

    • marlin says:

      Thank you for your comment. I agree that we must get to the root of the issue, but I can’t speak first hand to Bullying at Renaissance. However, if you know of a bullying problem, this is where you can speak with the DPS administration. If your conversation can keep one child from being bullied, than I deem that a success. As I stated, I’m not sure that Billy was bullied, so I can’t speak to that – but if you can…then I say it’s time for you to have that discussion. Thank you for caring, and let me know what happens.

  15. aleshia says:

    Hello I’m 18 years old let me tell yall from a teen perspective of it I been down the road of suicidal thoughts and actions. I tried to speak out about it but parents think it’s just a phase of emotions or its nothing serious sometimes teens show they feelings but in a different way sometimes we like show lack in the things we love start being distant, sleep more or either sleep way less, more media use less being with friends. And I can tell u from a personal experience with the Suicidal Hot line she put me on hold when I needed somebody to talk to if my friend didn’t call me I would have ended my life there I’m getting better with my life though starting to actually smile.. sometimes if you just sit down and talk with your kids it works other times it might not sometimes kids are screaming for attention but you might be too busy to even realize the pain their going through.but good luck parents hopefully your kids can overcome what there going through I’ve been pushing through to let the sun back in.

    • marlin says:


      I’m so thankful for you. I’m extremely happy that you decided to make another decision and live! Your words are very insightful and what’s needed, trust me WE are listening to you. I believe that you are going to be the “one,” to empower other teens to talk to someone and get them to understand that their lives are worth living. Sometimes teens don’t feel as if they could talk to my parents, this is where you all need Advocates. People you have on speed dial you can speak with. This can be a friend, a counselor, another adult, (hey, I’m making myself available.) Do you think it would help if we had more small group discussions/meet-ups with teens to just talk about life, self-esteem, etc.?

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