CAYCE, SC (WIS) - Kris Huntley says her son Kyler Alan Lucas was the apple of her eye.
"He was a very loving, very compassionate little boy," she said. "He loved being outdoors and anything he could pick up and build or make something out of he did. That was his whole life, he was always like that."
Growing up, whenever Kyler had a conflict with someone at school, Huntley said he was never afraid to speak his mind. But her son, 12, committed suicide in December.
"It wasn't unusual for him to come home at times and say this happened or that happened but it was never anything serious," Huntley said. "Usually, just personality conflicts at best."
Upon coming home from school, his mom said Kyler ate well, socialized with friends and family, and wanted to go places and try new things.
"He wasn't pulling away from anybody or anything," she said. "He wasn't locking himself in his room or distancing himself. He still laughed and watched movies and had family time with us."
Huntley said she and her ex-husband were very in touch with their children's lives at school, frequently visiting with teachers and trying to stay on top of all the activities they took part in.
But on Dec. 29, 2017, when her three children were spending time at their dad's house during winter break, Huntley said she received a hysterical call from her daughter.
"She called me very, very upset and crying so much that I couldn't understand her," she recalls. "She calmed down and said 'mommy, mommy come quick Kyler shot himself.' Of course in the moments after you're in complete shock. 'Wait, what? Tell me again what happened,'" she said.
Huntley said she drove over to her ex-husband's house, which is only about 10 minutes away.
"I called my daughter back on my way over and asked her if I could talk to her older brother, who is 16," she said. "He told me Kyler shot himself in the head and my head just exploded. The first thing on my mind is whether it was a graze, if he was okay or if he was talking."
When she arrived at the house, she found her two other children in the front yard along with her ex-husband. The family was not allowed inside the house as paramedics were caring for Kyler.
Sadly, it was too late. Kyler died and his death was ruled a suicide.
"No mother wants to imagine her child in the kind of pain that results in making that kind of decision out of such desperation," she said. "You never want them to be in a place like that."
Huntley said Kyler left a note, providing specific instructions for his parents to follow after his death.
"He knew exactly what he wanted," she said. "He apologized and said he was sorry for disappointing but he had done this because of bullying at school and he said he wanted us to be happy and didn't want us to cry and never forget him."
Not knowing how long the bullying went on, who was involved or its extent keeps Huntley up at night. However, she said she finds the strength to get up each day thanks to her other children.
"They need me," she said. "My husband needs me. So I take the time I need for me to break down or to have my time and my children see me cry, I don't hide it."
Following Kyler's death, his family continues to grieve. But Huntley said they find comfort in taking part in anti-bullying efforts around Columbia.
"Kyler's dad went to a 'Stop Bullying' meeting at a local dojo where he was able to share our story," she said. "All any parent wants to do is protect their child and it's hard to protect them from something you can't always see."
Additionally, his family is planning several anti-bullying benefits in Kyler's name for this spring. As for other parents, Huntley and her ex-husband encourage them to dive deeper into their children's lives and ask questions that force kids to think.
"We get so stuck in our daily routines and we sometimes forget to take those moments and make sure we're actually fostering a bond with our children," she said. "Do that so they feel they can trust us and talk to us and not just that they can, but that they want to. Ask them detailed questions about their day and dig into their bookbags and their lives a little bit more and look for things that they may not want to tell you."
While the "what-if" game can be an evil one, Huntley said she can't help but wonder what more she could have done to ensure Kyler would be with her today.
"Maybe I could have asked more questions, inserted myself more often and maybe that would have resulted in something coming to light that I didn't know before," she said. "We love to wish and hope that there's anything we could have done differently, that would have changed the outcome."
Even after his death, Huntley said teachers, administrators and the school's school resource officer said they saw no indication Kyler was suffering.
"We'd ask him every day when he got home, hey how was your day?" she said. "It was always, 'good, it was fine, or it was okay.' We never pushed past that."
Districts in South Carolina are able to report bullying and cyberbullying into a state system called PowerSchool. The incidents are self-reported by districts and doing so is voluntary.
According to data from the South Carolina Department of Education, Lexington School District 1, where Kyler was a student, reported 132 instances of bullying beginning during the 2013 school year and ending in 2016.
If you or someone you know is battling depression and contemplating suicide, there are a number of resources you can use to help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 - a 24-hour, 7 day-a-week hotline where people are there to help you and listen. All calls are anonymous.