Florida girl was bullied for months before suicide

Officials are looking into if they can file charges under a new state law that covers cyber-bullying.
Associated Press
Sep 13, 2013

For almost a year, as many as 15 girls ganged up on 12-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick and picked on her, authorities say, bombarding her with online messages such as "You should die" and "Why don't you go kill yourself."

At some point, Rebecca decided she couldn't take it anymore.

She changed one of her online screen names to "That Dead Girl." She messaged a boy: "I'm jumping." And then, on Monday, she went to an abandoned concrete plant in Lakeland where she liked to hang out, climbed a tower and hurled herself to her death.

Authorities have seized computers and cell phones from some of the girls as they decide whether to bring charges.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Rebecca had been "absolutely terrorized" by the other girls.

"We can see from what we've been investigating so far that Rebecca wasn't attacking back," Judd said. "She appeared to be beat down. She appeared to have a defeatist attitude. And quite frankly, the entire investigating is exceptionally disturbing."

The bullying started over a boy last year at Crystal Lake Middle School, according to Judd. But he gave no details. Police said at one point Rebecca had been suspended for fighting with a girl who used to be her friend.

The case has illustrated, once more, the ways in which the Internet is often used by youngsters to torment others.

"There is a lot of digital drama. Middle-school kids are horrible to each other, especially girls," said Perry Aftab, a New Jersey-based lawyer and expert on cyberbullying.

Last December, Rebecca was hospitalized for three days after cutting her wrists because of what she said was bullying, according to the sheriff. Later, after Rebecca complained she had been pushed in the hallway and another girl wanted to fight her, Rebecca's mother began home-schooling her, Judd said.

This fall, Rebecca started at a new school, Lawton Chiles Middle Academy, and loved it, Judd said. But the bullying continued online.

"She put on a perfect, happy face. She never told me," Rebecca's mother, Tricia Norman, told the Lakeland Ledger. "I never had a clue. I mean, she told me last year when she was being bullied, but not this year, and I have no idea why."

After Rebecca's suicide, police looked at her computer and found search queries such as "What is overweight for a 13-year-old girl," ''how to get blades out of razors," and "how many over-the-counter drugs do you take to die." One of her screensavers also showed Rebecca with her head resting on a railroad track.

Detectives said the girls' parents have been cooperative.

Florida has a bullying law, but it calls for schools, not police, to punish bullies. Legal experts said it is difficult to bring charges against someone accused of driving a person to suicide.

"We've had so many suicides that are related to digital harassment. But we also have free-speech laws in this country," Aftab said.

In 2006, 13-year-old Megan Meier hanged herself in California after she was dumped online by a fictitious teenage boy created in part by an adult neighbor, Lori Drew, authorities said. A jury found Drew guilty of three federal misdemeanors, but a judge threw out the verdicts and acquitted her.

Florida's law, the Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act, was named after a teenager who killed himself after being harassed by classmates. The law was amended July 1 to cover cyberbullying.

David Tirella, a Florida attorney who lobbied for the law and has handled dozens of cyberbullying cases, said law enforcement can also seek more traditional charges.

"The truth is, even without these school bullying laws, there's battery, there's stalking," he said.

Comments

Nemesis

Note: anyone who spends any time on these comment streams realizes that, if deertracker and I can agree on something, that militates strongly for it.

We didn't have the internet, but my father used to limit us to 15 minutes on the phone at a time - he said that any meaningful conversation longer than that should be face to face and said to hang up and go see them. He'd even take us there if the circumstances warranted.

Centauri

This is a sad story that sadly will be repeated again and again.

Have the schools changed anything about bullies? Can a bullied child go talk to somebody at the school about this ongoing bullying? Do parents of bullied children tell them to "suck it up" and ignore bullies? What about the schools? Often in schools, when a bullied child stands up and fights, the bullied child is the one who gets punished by the schools.

These bullies in schools grow up to be adult bullies. Some are in public office and bully the citizens.

Adult bullies online show themselves by becoming trolls and flamers. You know who you are.

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/09/1...
"In jumping, Rebecca became one of the youngest members of a growing list of children and teenagers apparently driven to suicide, at least in part, after being maligned, threatened and taunted online, mostly through a new collection of texting and photo-sharing cellphone applications. Her suicide raises new questions about the proliferation and popularity of these applications and Web sites among children and the ability of parents to keep up with their children’s online relationships.

For more than a year, Rebecca, pretty and smart, was cyberbullied by a coterie of 15 middle-school children who urged her to kill herself, her mother said."

Julie R.

"These bullies in schools grow up to be adult bullies. Some are in public office and bully the citizens."

You got that right! Those vicious little dirt-bags will probably grow up to be narcissistic arrogant judges or prosecutors someday.

Nemesis

And Julie will never get her lunch money back because she'd rather whine about it here than do anything effective to solve the problem.

Centauri

YOU have the spot light!

How can Julie do anything effective in corrupt Ohio?

Don't look for Ohio courts to do anything.

How about a revolt in Ohio?

Can you offer a better solution Nemesis?

Nemesis

Absolutely.

First, stop ranting here - she's only destroying her credibility, and telegraphing any action she does take to those she opposes.

Second, consult with a competent and trustworthy attorney (they do exist.)

Third, educate herself. Her rants here betray a childish level of understanding of the legal system - e.g. she continually refers to a "power of attorney" which is a document, as a person.

Centauri

"Second, consult with a competent and trustworthy attorney (they do exist.)"

Please help Julie out. Name only ONE! Give Julie only one name to an honest attorney in corrupt Ohio.

The spotlight is on you Nemesis. Julie will thank you.

Centauri

Most honest attorneys in corrupt Ohio who go up against the powers that be in corrupt Ohio end up dead or in prison. Or the corrupt judges make sure that the honest attorneys will loose every case which will make them appear incompetent.

The rest are too chicken sh!t. I can understand.

There is strength in numbers to go up against the powers that be.

Form a coalition. I figure that Julie is trying to spread the word to form a coalition.

What about you Nemesis? Just going along with the wishes of the powers that be? Are you just a follower? Like a sheep in a herd of sheep?

Nemesis

The only coalition Julie is forming is of people who think she should be committed.

I, and others have attempted to get a coherent narrative out of her so as to help her. We've asked her direct questions about the situation, to which the responses have been repetitive and often incoherent train of consciousness ranting.

When McGookey opened comments on his column one week, Julie started blasting him with her rants. If she thinks telling him her story can do any good, she should go sit down in his office and tell it calmly and rationally.

Finally, what would be the purpose of this coalition, or of helping her? She's already said in these comment streams that she doesn't care about getting her inheritance back - it's pretty clear that she's simply seeking some personal catharsis by hijacking every comment thread and making it about her tale of woe.

Julie R.

Nemesis, that doesn't make a bit of sense. A power of attorney (a document) that allows YOU to give your chosen attorney-in-fact (a person or persons) the right to do things on your behalf in the event that you ever become incompetent is LEGAL. A new (forged) power of attorney prepared not by YOU but by your ATTORNEY that gives a couple of fraud attorneys-in-fact the right to do things on your behalf AFTER you become totally incompetent is CRIMINAL.

What's so hard to understand about that?

Nemesis

Julie, I've cited multiple instances in other threads where you have referred to a person or persons as "power(s) of attorney" or "power of attorneys."

WeThePeople1965

Boy oh boy oh boy do you got that right. It does you no good to go into law, or become a government official or even to become an administrative official unless you like to lie and get paid to do it. Some kids are already scumbags. In my day and age, honor students and the leaders of the schools had some respect for their peers. Today, those same 'leaders' are passive-aggressive arseholes, who are going into law, or becoming our government and administrative leaders. I'd have to home school my kids.

All you have to do today is wave $1000 or a set of Porsche keys in front of our 'leaders,' and you'll have what you want. Not very many people can do that.

Concerned For A...

Schools do something about it? Yeah, right. My daughter went to Bellevue Senior High School before I yanked her out. She was tormented on a daily basis. It affected her grades, her attitude, her entire life. I went to the principal, vice principal, guidance counselor. My final step was going to the Bellevue police with proof in black and white. This girl telling my daughter she wasn't going to ever stop the rumors, and lies until she wanted to kill herself. This girl turned the whole school against my daughter. Nobody did anything. The girl never got talked to, nothing. It just kept happening. Finally the last straw was this girl came into my daughters 7th period class (where she wasn't even scheduled to be) and sat right behind my daughter and started whispering how everybody hates you, blah blah blah. Yeah, well the bell rang, my daughter walked out behind her and opened a HUGE can of whoop a$$ on this girl. I went right into that office and told them my daughter will not be punished for this at home. This is your fault, you and your joke of a "no bully tolerance". The girls parents pressed assault charges on my daughter, and huron counties piece of crap juvenile prosecutor made my daughter write an apology letter to the bully. So she in the end still got punished for being bullied. It's never going to stop. I understand that you can't turn to violence and you can't hit people, nor do I condone it, but everyone has a breaking point. Everyone does, I don't care who you are. You go through this every single day of your life, you can only tune it out for so long.

Centauri

http://www.buzzfeed.com/ryanhate...
"9 Teenage Suicides In The Last Year Were Linked To Cyber-Bullying On Social Network Ask.fm"

Centauri

Share this information with your children. Maybe the information might prevent a few suicides.

http://pbskids.org/itsmylife/fri...
"A big, mean kid knocks a smaller one down in the schoolyard. A snobby girl laughs at what someone’s wearing. A group of boys trash another kid’s locker. These are obvious and classic images of bullying. As you probably know by now, they aren’t the only way to be a bully anymore."

http://www.stopbullying.gov/cybe...
"Examples of cyberbullying include mean text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles."

"Kids who are being cyberbullied are often bullied in person as well. Additionally, kids who are cyberbullied have a harder time getting away from the behavior."

http://www.dosomething.org/tipsa...
"Bullying victims are 2 to 9 times more likely to consider committing suicide."

The victim in that Steubenville, Ohio rape case was also a victim of online bullying.

http://enspartan.com/opinion/201...
"Cyberbullying: The Case of Audrie Pott, Rehtaeh Parsons, and Steubenville, Ohio"

Julie R.

I'd argue that words ~ especially from peers ~ often hit harder than punches. When these kids are bullied, they start believing what they are being told about themselves is the truth.

I blame the parents of the bullies and the schools.

Nemesis

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never harm you.

Most of the commentators here have said something disparaging about you, but it hasn't slowed down your endless ranting about your lost inheritance. If you can do it, so can they - there's no 'S' on your chest or cape on your back.

Too many parents follow the mantra of "my kid's never going to experience the adversity I did" without ever contemplating the role that adversity may have had in the formation of their own character.

If your kid doesn't learn to face what you did, how's he supposed to accomplish what you have?

Julie R.

If sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never harm you, why do you get so upset over the disparaging ~ and oh so very true ~ comments that I make about attorneys and the arrogant bullies at the corrupt Erie County courthouse?

Nemesis

I don't give a rat's behind about them or what you think/say about them. The problem is you attempt to hijack every comment thread on the SR website and make it all about you and your tale of woe. This article has NOTHING to do with Erie County, its courts, or any other aspect of your problem, yet here you are trying to insert your personal problem into the discussion, and for what? You've already said you don't care about getting your inheritance back.

underthebridge

Nemesis - even if your kids aren't on FB or other social media sites, they can still be cyber-bullied. How? Many schools in the area are initiating individual laptop programs and are allowing students as young as 6th grade (11 years old) to bring their cell phones to school. How? Even if your son or daughter doesn't have access to Facebook or other social media sites, their classmates often do. Equipped with cameras, these students post things during the school day. Don't believe me? Most area schools have Twitter accounts to provide info on sports teams, etc. Find their followers and see how many of them post things during the school day. Some of it is benign, but often it is beyond cruel. (Don't even get me started about the kids who use their smart phones to take pictures of tests and then post it on their social media accounts for all of their followers to cheat with -- but I digress).

You might wonder how a kid who doesn't have social media can know. Well, their friends tell them, "Johnny is really ripping you on Twitter." "Boy, Johnny called you a f#g on Twitter and 14 people retweeted it." "Johnny is going to kick your as$ after school today and wishes you were dead." After weeks and weeks of hearing these things, even a young person with pretty healthy self-esteem can get hit hard. Why? Because often Johnny recruits other kids to do similar things and then it is like a herd mentality whose hobby it is basically cyber and real-life stalk a kid. Your suggestion that they don't let it bother them is actually an admirable goal, but not a realistic one for a young person whose view of themselves is just developing."

With more and more schools giving access to technology, we've got to deal with these kinds of things not just let it take care of itself.

Julie R.

*Like*

Nemesis

underthebridge, to all that, I say "SO WHAT??"

Maybe you haven't been paying attention to context in this discussion. All those HORRIBLE things they might say about a kid? All those things he might hear second hand? BEEN THERE, HEARD THAT, FIRST HAND, complete with the physical violence to go along with it. It never even occurred to me to give it any credibility, let alone kill myself. And guess what? There's no 'S' on my chest, and I did NOT come from the planet Krypton. I'm an ordinary person who has to work for a living and watch what I spend to get by. I don't leap tall buildings, I'm not a billionaire like Bruce Wayne, and I'm not a rock star. Nor am I particularly unique in this - I know plenty of other people who endured the same, or worse, as teens, and despite being ordinary normal humans, they're all JUST FINE.

SO, if what was easy for me and others as teens is completely beyond the abilities of these kids, to what sort of life does this helplessness you're imputing condemn them?

If you teach your kids sound values, they won't give a rat's behind what's being said on Facebook, or in the locker room.

underthebridge

Do you realize how heartless you sound? Maybe she should've just toughened up, right? Come to think of it, law enforcement shouldn't prosecute stalkers either.

Nemesis

"Do you realize how heartless you sound? Maybe she should've just toughened up, right?"

Worked for me and thousands of others. Maybe you missed where I recounted having been through far more real bullying than she faced, and being none the worse for it. We all get to choose the value we place on popularity and being part of the "in" crowd.

People commit suicide for any number of reasons, but the one commonality is they all make a choice. Life is tough, and parents should prepare their kids for that reality. Is it heartless to teach your kid to swim because she's going to be around water? No? Then why is it heartless to prepare kids for the other hard parts of life? For crying out loud, if you raise a kid who self-destructs when faced with social ostracism, namecalling, and gossip, how's she going to respond to a fire, traffic accident, or medical emergency? For every socially outcast kid who commits suicide, there are a hundred others who put it in perspective, and realize that there are more important things in life than the approval of this week's hot clique.

2Timothy1-7

If words can not hurt you and should not be criminal, why was a local government critic sentenced to 8 years in prison?

Don't children deserve greater protection than adults from internet comments?

Nemesis

There are plenty of people unjustly in prison. Society isn't perfect - all the more reason for kids to develop a little resilience.

The mechanism for protecting children is called PARENTS, who should exert control over their kids' use of technology, especially if they have raised them to go to pieces over words on a screen.

underthebridge

Parents should, but what if they don't? What if the girl's parents tried to exert control, but the parents of the other kids don't?? Too bad for her luck?

Nemesis

I'm talking about THIS GIRL's use of technology. If Facebook makes your kid want to kill herself, then keep her away from Facebook.

underthebridge

You're offering a very simplistic response to a very complex situation. 15 kids were involved in this. You're uninformed to think that this did not spill into her real-life world of hall-ways and classrooms and bathrooms.

Nemesis

I never said I thought that. The point is that a kid who wants to be on Facebook is far more likely to buy into the whole popularity cult, and be affected by ALL the facets you cite.

If your kid wants to use Facebook, it's a strong clue that you're doing something wrong. Denying them Facebook and letting them observe that, without Facebook, the sun still rises every morning and life goes on, is a good start on teaching them a healthier set of values.

Pages