Emotional wounds were rubbed raw in a Fresno County courtroom Monday as a Clovis West student attempted to secure a restraining order against the mother of her ex-boyfriend – a 16-year-old boy who took his own life in November. Both parties blamed one another for the teenager’s death while sitting six feet apart before Judge Carlos A. Cabrera, who ultimately denied the request for First Amendment reasons.
Court documents reveal that the girl, 16, filed a temporary restraining order against Kristine Bernardoni, 40, on March 27. The Bee is not identifying the girl because she is underage.
The girl claimed that Bernardoni had been harassing her through social media and on the Clovis West campus.
Bernardoni, through her attorney Kevin Little, filed a 206-page response in opposition to the permanent restraining order request on Friday. She asserted that she had not been harassing the girl personally. Her regular appearances near Clovis West, she said, were part of a campaign she launched to reach out to students after her son, Trevor, became the second of three suicides in three months.
Both shed tears as barbs flew during Monday’s hearing.
I don’t get why she’s blaming me. It was his choice to end his life.
Former girlfriend, to mother of teen boy who committed suicide
The proceedings began with the girl and her mother asking Cabrera for a continuance so that she could hire a lawyer and better prepare for the case. The girl had been hospitalized due to depression and thoughts of suicide, her mother said. Being near Bernardoni makes things worse.
Little would not agree, saying the girl had had sufficient time to prepare. He noted that Bernardoni and the girl had been sitting in the same room for over an hour without incident.
Cabrera asked the girl if she was able to speak on her own behalf. When she said she could, he allowed the hearing to continue.
The girl’s mother was the first to testify. She said her daughter fears Bernardoni, who has publicly blamed her on social media for Trevor’s death. On March 10, the girl told her principal she wanted to commit suicide. She was then hospitalized. She has not yet returned to school. She wants to return but can’t due to Bernardoni’s regular presence at a main entrance to Clovis West.
The mother said Bernardoni and others have held signs at the entrance every Friday, including one that reads “tell somebody.” She believes this sign is directed at her daughter. It’s not her daughter’s fault, she said. It was Trevor’s.
‘Just stay away’
When Cabrera asked the mother what behavior she was seeking to restrain, her daughter interjected: “I just want her to stay away from me in general.”
The girl then told the judge she ran into Bernardoni at a football game just after Trevor’s death.
“Why would she have a reason to go if her son doesn’t go to Clovis West?” she said. The judge told her that he attends Clovis West games because the school furnishes a good athletic product, noting that a person doesn’t have to be directly tied to a school to attend its games.
In his cross-examination of the mother, Little said the game in question was on Dec. 2. Clovis West planned to honor Trevor at the event. The girl, her mother and Bernardoni had a conversation just before halftime.
Little asked if the mother knew her daughter was the last person to talk to Trevor before his death. She said yes. When asked if her daughter had told her Trevor was suicidal, she said no.
On Dec. 1, the daughter posted 26 photos of herself and Trevor, Little said. Bernardoni commented on each, saying: “Take anything and everything down that you have regarding my son. Because of you, he committed suicide. I hope you continue to get the long-term therapy you need. (If you have) any problems or questions regarding these statements, have your mother call me.”
At least one instance of this comment was still posted on the girl’s Facebook page as of Monday afternoon.
When Little asked the mother if she responded to Bernardoni’s post with profanity and told his client that Trevor was dead because Bernardoni was a bad mother, the mother said yes. When asked if she regretted the response, she said no.
Little then went into the specifics of the signs and sidewalk events. Bernarndoni rotates among five Clovis Unified School District high schools every Friday, meaning she is only at Clovis West once every five weeks. At each campus, she is joined by friends and students, and they stand for about 30 minutes before class begins. They hold signs that read “tell someone,” “#HugLikeTrevor” and “We are proud of you.”
Little asked the mother if any of these signs mentioned her daughter by name. They did not, she said, but she believes the “tell someone” sign is directed at her daughter.
When Little began to discuss other entrances to Clovis West’s campuses that the girl could take, the girl interjected.
“Why should I waste gas and take the time ...” she said, before Cabrera cut her off and directed her to wait her turn.
Little then asked the mother if she had talked with her daughter about using another entrance, and she said yes.
During her testimony, the mother told the court her daughter blocked Bernardoni from seeing the girl’s social media posts in December. Little asked if any contact, online or otherwise, has occurred between the girl and his client since Dec. 3. Her mother said there had not been. She also said that Bernardoni had been barred from district campuses by Clovis Unified.
However, Clovis Unified spokeswoman Kelly Avants said Monday that the district has not barred Bernardoni from campus. Rather, officials had met with her several times to discuss the appropriate way for a visitor to conduct business or host events on a campus. Bernardoni apparently preferred to use the public sidewalks for her events, Avants said.
When Little asked the mother why she wanted to restrict Bernardoni’s message, she said she just wanted her daughter to get an education. The girl can’t do that right now, she added.
The girl’s father testified next. He repeated much of what his ex-wife and daughter had said up to that point.
The girl then began her testimony.
“I don’t get why she’s blaming me,” she told the judge. “It was his choice to end his life.”
She said the signs affect her, bringing back an event she doesn’t want to be reminded of. She also questioned Bernardoni’s campaign.
“Why is (Bernardoni) trying to save my life if she couldn’t save her son’s?” the girl said. “It’s not working. The signs are to make me feel guilty.”
She said that everyone at school is aware of what to do concerning suicide, so there’s no need for the signs. She added that she’s been depressed for seven years, and just seeing Bernardoni reminds her of Trevor and sends her into a bad mental state.
At one point, the girl said she had called some of Trevor’s friends on the night of his death to tell them he had talked about hurting himself.
Little asked the girl why she didn’t call 911 when Trevor expressed suicidal thoughts the night of his death.
“How was I supposed to take it seriously or know?” she said.
When asked if she understood why Bernardoni would be upset over this, the girl said that Trevor had told her just before his death that his mother was the reason he was killing himself. She said Bernardoni had left her son alone with her gun.
After the girl said this, Bernardoni burst into tears.
The girl went on to say that Bernardoni was also the reason that she contemplated suicide, saying Bernardoni bullied her and turned her friends against her.
Her voice shook at several intervals as she wiped tears from her face. She wore a large Clovis West sweatshirt, which both parties agreed had belonged to Trevor.
Little asked if she wore this sweatshirt to hurt Bernardoni. No, the girl said, she just wore it often. It was one of several Trevor gave her.
After the girl testified, Little asked the judge to deny her request for a permanent restraining order. Cabrera denied the motion, saying he wanted to hear more evidence before deciding.
Little then called Bernardoni to the witness stand. She talked about her son and the girl’s relationship, saying the two teenagers fought a lot and were “on again, off again.”
In March 2016, Bernardoni said, she took her son’s cellphone, restricted his computer use and pulled him out of football for a month. She did this because of bad grades, but also because her son was in therapy dealing with anger and impulse-control issues. He had also been seeing other girls while dating the claimant – a practice Bernardoni wanted to snuff out.
Bernardoni said her son needed to fix these issues before he would be allowed to date again.
“I wanted my son to be stable,” she said.
Bernardoni then went into great detail about her son’s death. She was returning from the grocery store when one of Trevor’s friends called her and said he had heard that Trevor might have hurt himself.
Bernardoni, an emergency room nurse, said she found her son in the bathroom of their home and tried to help him. He was alive, but she knew the gunshot wound to his head was fatal.
She said that if someone had told her about Trevor’s statements to the girl, she could have saved his life. She denied that her son was suicidal or depressed, saying he had arrived home that day in a happy mood.
“My son had a life and a tomorrow until he got on the phone with (the girl),” Bernardoni said.
The courtroom was filled with more than a dozen of Bernardoni’s friends and family members, who were all ready to testify should Little require it. Several cried as Bernardoni completed her testimony.
Cabrera then asked Little if he would like to renew his motion to deny the restraining order. Little did.
In granting Little’s motion, Cabrera said there was insufficient evidence that the signs wielded by Bernardoni and others were definitively directed at the girl or that Bernardoni had engaged in direct harassment. The judge said he was sorry to all those involved and that it’s horrible when young people take their own lives.
“I agree that friends should take care of one another,” Cabrera said. “They should tell somebody.”