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

grandmasgirl

So tragic. I am not computer literate, but I don't understand how these bullies can do this on line. Don't you have to get the girl's e-mail address, or something? If she was getting so many, why didn't the parents go to the parents of the girls who was doing this to the daughter. The girls that did the bullying need to be punished. Maybe if they went to the funeral home and watched the body be prepared for showing it might wake them up.

Unassumer

The mom homeschooled her and then she started going to a different school. The mom was unaware it was still going on after that. Facebook is a place many kids use to bully others. Somehow these girls had her contact info and she kept reading the messages. It's unfortunate that she let what others said and did destroy her because they are vicious, horrible children. I do hope they get charged with something.

Nemesis

"It's unfortunate that she let what others said and did destroy her"

Then:

"I do hope they get charged with something"

And you don't see the contradiction? She LET their words control her choices, and you see this as a reason that we should all just wipe our behinds with the First Amendment and prosecute these kids for mere words.

There is no right not to be offended by what people say.

Mystery_Cheese

As insensitive as it is, I agree with you. I was bullied when I was younger, but it stopped when I showed I wasn't one that would turn the other cheek. Standing up for yourself is what we need to be teaching kids, not running away and telling on the other kids. If it comes to physical violence, then by all means, notify the police. But words are just words, they can't hurt you, despite what some pseudo-psychologists may say. Unless of course YOU let them hurt you. I also suffered and still suffer from depression, so that's no excuse to me.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

This is very tragic turn of events. As a parent where does a child's privacy and your need to monitor content cross? I guess some can say the child doesn't have any privacy in a household due to being a minor, etc., but that's a whole other discussion. I certainly can't say myself, but the Internet is still very much a wild, wild west and takes diligence on behalf of parents to help their kids navigate and understand the content and users that populate it.

If you are a parent, at least sit down with your child to discuss this topic and offer discretion. The differences of real life versus chat messages must be brought up as well as concepts such as the perils of anonymous attacks and how to deflect/ignore hurtful comments. It isn't enough to expect a child to learn about IRL culture, the online culture must be discussed as well.

underthebridge

Very tragic. Kids use social media now not really emails. That being said, too many parents justify the actions of their little darlings and often it is the cumulative impact of the abuse from many peers that drives kids over the edge. It is the equivalent of stalking and I hope the kids involved are charged.

AEversole

If the Internet and social media was driving this girl to suicide, why just not get on line for a while... I mean C 'mon. Obviously this girl had some other depression type issues going on.... I am not letting the others off the hook here, but if on line bulling can put your life in danger, I think I would not get on it...

Nemesis

What a novel thought - taking responsibility for one's own state of mind!
That's what everybody seems to miss in the hysteria over so-called "cyber-bullying" - no one is forced to use Facebook and we all have control over where we point our browsers.

Real bullying is the sort of thing you can't avoid - you are at school, and between school and home are kids waiting to beat you up.

WeThePeople1965

I'm sorry, but I'll never be able to take that seriously. On a psychological level, I want you to tell me the difference between rape, abuse and neglect, and bullying, the difference being how mentally and emotionally injurious each one is. Someone with a background in psychology, like myself, will tell you that all four offenses are very similar to each other, in terms of how it damages the mind. In fact, a case of bullying is usually accompanied by physical attacks in some form. By the way, she probably realized that she didn't have to get on Facebook, etc. and see what people were saying, it's just that every teen's brain is hard wired to want to know what people are saying, it's actually Erik Erikson's 5th stage of life called 'Identity versus Confusion,' where essentially you want to know what the h*ll people are saying because during that time of life, the world revolves around you. Shouldn't it be a right to be able to go online and feel safe, instead of living in fear and avoiding everything? During that time, you're living in your limbic system, which is when you're living in the emotional part of the brain. Serotonin, a happy chemical, also has a tendency to drop during that time, which contributes to the development of depression. So, my whole point is, how about instead of telling teens to suck it up, which they will eventually as their brains mature, why don't we try to end the violence, and get teens psychological help if they are showing signs of depression, or self harm, eating disorders, or suicidal thoughts, etc.? How about getting the bullies help, because it's also proven that bullies have some form of psychological injury or illness? Geez, it's no wonder the incidence of antisocial behavior is going up!!

Julie R.

*Like*

Nemesis

"Someone with a background in psychology,"

...a pseudoscience based on telling people that the choices they make are actually something happening to them, the increased influence of which has seen an almost lockstep increase in every societal problem it is supposed to solve. Here's the problem - with another 100 years or so of careful, rigorous scientific investigation, psychologists may be at the point where physicists were when the apple fell on Newton's head, and yet they want to tell all of us how to live, often in complete contradiction of thousands of years of trial and error development of common sense.

Sticks and stones will break your bones, but names can never hurt you. You know what? A few hundred years ago, and today in some parts of the world, kids didn't/don't have the luxury of "living in their limbic system."

The problem is we've had a few generations of parents who don't allow their kids to face any adversity, but they can't prevent social ostracism, and when it hits, the kids are unequipped to deal with it.

"Geez, it's no wonder the incidence of antisocial behavior is going up!!"

Like I said, in neat correlation with the influence of psychologists and other social scientists. Go figure.

I know a thing or two about real bullying. Real bullying is when a thug who, at 16, has an extensive criminal record, showing you the knife he's going to use to kill you after school. Real bullying is getting beat up. How I WISH the bullies at my school had limited their attacks to mere words - responding would have been like shooting ducks in a barrel.

WeThePeople1965

If your 'we're only 200* years into psychological study' (those weren't your words, but essentially that's what you said) theory were true, then tell me how cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectal behavioral therapy were proven to work and approved for use in clinical settings? How about anti-psychotics and antidepressants? Anxiolytics? They had to be approved by the FDA to be used, and there's obvious positive outcomes. Are you going to tell the victims of Ariel Castro to 'just deal with it?' How about abused animals? Are serial killers and rapists just psychologically sane people, and are we all insane to think they've got some kind of mental illness? That just might be, if you look at your theory of 'we're only 200 years into psychological study.'

We've known far longer than just 200 years how the brain and mind works, it wasn't just Sigmund Freud who discovered psychology. There's also a key difference between physics and psychology- one is very complicated, and the other is very obvious but also moderately complicated. One is physical science- what we can't see with our naked eye, and the other we experience consciously every day.

"The problem is we've had a few generations of parents who don't allow their kids to face any adversity, but they can't prevent social ostracism, and when it hits, the kids are unequipped to deal with it."
So, if you're 13 years old, and another girl/boy was to call you (enter vulgarity here), and you told your parents, they would obviously tell you that the girl was either jealous or just a mean punk. Be honest with me, how often do adolescents listen to their parents? They're going to believe their peers far faster than they'll believe their parents. At that age, their parents want to ruin their lives. Peer pressure is why this girl listened, it's also the culprit for teens who try cigarettes, alcohol, drugs, etc. ALSO, ANOTHER adult was involved in this BS. So if another adult is involved, then it MUST be true that she's a (enter vulgarity here), obviously.

You can argue up, down, left and right, until you're red/purple/blue in the face, but please, for the sake of your intellect, go study some psychology and try to prove discoverers wrong, and totally change clinical psychology.

Nemesis

There are centuries of data that acupuncture relieves symptoms, without any actual scientific cause and effect understanding, which is a far better track record than psychology. Like I said, the incidence of every problem the social sciences are supposed to address has increased in lockstep with the number and influence of social scientists. And all you can offer is the approval of some of your symptom treatments by a government agency?

I don't know what this "200 years into" thing is about. I said that with investigation far more rigorous than what has happened to date, 200 years from now the social sciences might achieve the level of understanding the physical sciences achieved 500 years ago. The social sciences are still somewhere between the shamanism stage and the alchemy stage, but they wear a veil of modernity by borrowing technology from the hard sciences (such as psychoactive drugs) to affect the outward symptoms of phenomena they don't really understand in a provable cause and effect manner. They know that drug A interferes with chemical change B which correlate with behavioral pattern C, but they have no idea if there's a causal relationship between B and C, or, if it does exist, which direction it runs, so they administer the drug, but they don't know if they're treating the cause or the symptom.

In any event, there are plenty of kids who not only survive teenage social ostracism, but who thrive and go on to see the day that they hear their former tormenters, who they can now buy and sell several times over, ask "would you like fries with that?" There are plenty of kids who listen to their parents more than their peers. I've known a lot of them over the years, and, to a one, it was due to how they were raised.

I've been called more things as a teenager than you can imagine, and experienced REAL bullying, as in physical violence. I've also had the satisfaction of having the thug who threatened to kill me in middle school have to address me as 'sir' 14 years later, because of the different paths our lives took. You keep on theorizing about kids who, in your view, had no choice about killing themselves, something with which you clearly have no direct experience as someone who is still alive - I'll stick with the direct, empirical experience, my own and that of many people I know, who did what you claim is humanly impossible, and ignored peer pressure, disdained the approval of the unwashed, survived far harsher bullying than mere words, and thrived in spite of it.

WeThePeople1965

Alright, then, go in front of the medical board on the national level and tell them that. Show them the studies and research you have performed on bullying and the mind. Go prove that thousands of people are wrong. The first thing that's gonna come out of their mouth is 'what is your educational background?' They'll ask you questions until the cows come home, and send you back here.

Nemesis

So, because those in power believe in it, it must be so? It's just one fallacy after another with you. Psychology is more religion than science, and there's no shortage of populations and governments devoted to a dogma.

LadyC

Nemesis, I don't always agree with you, but on this I do. Physical bullying is one thing, but if the girl is on Facebook, she can de-friend and block these people so she never has to see them on her feed. Or, she could stay off altogether and find something better to do.

RNR

I feel so sorry for this girl.... but this is why you should monitor your children.... yep its called SNOOPING! Check their computers (especially history), check their text messages, Check their rooms. Its been done for years and is very effective. Oh no... thats invasion of their privacy.... yeah. You are their parent, not their friend. Its your job to protect them, because no one else will. Another effective measure is talking to your child. Not just the 5 minute "how was school deal" Conversate with them!! Also get to know their friends and conversate with them!

2cents

I agree, if they are under 16 I think they should have no social network privacy from parents. Of course you need parents to be involved, if the parents can buy the children the tools to go online then they have the responsibility to oversea what they see, do and go online!

Nemesis

They should have no social networking PERIOD. They need to learn how to form and maintain REAL relationships - making a friend involves more than a mouse click. If you allow your kid to use Facebook you're doing them a huge disservice.

ladydye_5

My husband says it is NOT snooping....it is "intelligence gathering". (he is retired military)

Unassumer

Sometimes the ignorant win; but not for long.

Truth2u

This tears at our very inward souls... Anger, sadness, morn, it has all the emotions. I can't imagine the pain the family is going through, especially when you go to the very people who make laws to turn your children over to them for 8-10 hours per day and then do nothing to prevent this. Found this link on my friends Facebook that shows some further insight. http://www.everyjoe.com/2013/09/...

candleburner

A friend of mine that has teenagers - I have no children at all - said that she found 3 new social sites like facebook that are horrid. She put warnings out there for parents to watch for these sites are kids are getting on them and most will know to look for facebook or even twitter but don't look for others and if you're not watching what sites your kids are honestly on you really don't know what your kids are facing. Unfortunately I guess these other 3 sites - and I wish I could remember the names of them - aren't all that child friendly to begin with but if you add the fact that kids are getting on them and then who knows what they're doing once they're on there, there are times I'm glad I don't have kids. But I do love those commercials that talk about bullying and show kids standing up to them - think we need to teach that to more. If more people - not just kids - stand up to bullies eventually they'll go away. At least that's the hope, naive as it is, it's what we all have to hold on to, if it'll keep kids from hurting themselves.

deertracker

I feel bad for the family but I am NEVER going to kill myself because YOU are a JERK!!!!!!!! Kids.......STAND UP FOR YOURSELVES!

Nemesis

THANK YOU FOR THAT!!!!! In life, you can act, or you can react. Don't let others control your choices.

gramafun

Most kids, by their beginning teen years, don't have minds that are yet fully developed. They cannot reason that going on the internet again and again to see the bad things people are saying about them is an option. This story does not say if it was on Facebook, Twitter or emails. However the harassment was delivered, it was still harassment and this girl, whose self esteem was already damaged, believed every word the others said. It shows in the outcome.

I doubt that anything the parents said would have helped. She obviously needed professional help toward the end and the parents were not aware or missed the signs. Kids are great at fooling us when we don't want to see what is going on with them for real. Don't take the facade as the real thing, especially if the previous signs were there.

My prayers go out to her family. As for those who bullied her, they deserve to be punished for what they did. Perhaps some time doing work in a homeless shelter or at the morgue is just what they need to bring them back to reality of what can happen if this type of behavior continues. For every action, their is a reaction. And you are responsible for it. 'nough said.

Nemesis

"They cannot reason that going on the internet again and again to see the bad things people are saying about them is an option."

There are plenty who can, because they were raised not to be lemmings.
Parents, teach your children to THINK, rather than EMOTE their way through life, and teach them, REALLY teach them, to live by principle rather than peer pressure.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

(: lol sum tiping skillz wuld be gewd 2 cuz its hard 2 take sum1 srsly if dey cant tipe or w/e. it makes it hard 4 sum 2 understand when dey c dis as ur only expreshun!1 big diferense between

how r u 2day?

-and-

How are you today?

espeshully when bosses lewk 4 u on facebook n stuff n dey see dis it can hurt u. wuld b liek going 2 a job interrvew in ur pjs insted of proper cloze lol

Nemesis

Amen. Don't let your kids live in the Facebook/texting world. Make them interact on a human level. Maybe they'll have fewer friends, but the loss of quantity will come with an improvement in quality.

deertracker

Very true!

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