Girls, 12 and 14, arrested for bullying that led to suicide

Polk County sheriff trying to decide if parents should be charged
Associated Press
Oct 16, 2013

After 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick committed suicide last month, one of her tormenters continued to make comments about her online, even bragging about the bullying, a sheriff said Tuesday.

The especially callous remark hastened the arrest of a 14-year-old girl and a 12-year-old girl who were primarily responsible for bullying Rebecca, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said. They were charged with stalking and released to their parents.

"'Yes, I bullied Rebecca and she killed herself but I don't give a ...' and you can add the last word yourself," the sheriff said, quoting a Facebook post the older girl made Saturday.

Police in central Florida said Rebecca was tormented online and at school by as many as 15 girls before she climbed a tower at an abandoned concrete plant and hurled herself to her death Sept. 9. She is one of at least a dozen or so suicides in the past three years that were attributed at least in part to cyberbullying.

The sheriff said they were still investigating the girls, and trying to decide whether the parents should be charged.

"I'm aggravated that the parents aren't doing what parents should do," the sheriff said. "Responsible parents take disciplinary action."

About a year ago, the older girl threatened to fight Rebecca while they were sixth-graders at Crystal Lake Middle School and told her "to drink bleach and die," the sheriff said. She also convinced the younger girl to bully Rebecca, even though they had been best friends.

The girls repeatedly intimidated Rebecca and called her names, the sheriff said, and at one point, the younger girl even beat up Rebecca at school.

Both girls were charged as juveniles with third-degree felony aggravated stalking. If convicted, it's not clear how much time, if any at all, the girls would spend in juvenile detention because they did not have any previous criminal history, the sheriff said.

The sheriff's office identified the two girls, but The Associated Press generally does not name juveniles charged with crimes.

The bullying began after the 14-year-old girl started dating a boy Rebecca had been seeing, the sheriff said.

A man who answered the phone at the 14-year-old's Lakeland home said he was her father and told The Associated Press "none of it's true."

"My daughter's a good girl and I'm 100 percent sure that whatever they're saying about my daughter is not true," he said.

At their mobile home, a barking pit bull stood guard and no one came outside despite shouts from reporters for an interview.

Neighbor George Colom said he had never interacted with the girl but noticed her playing roughly with other children on the street.

"Kids getting beat up, kids crying," Colom said. "The kids hang loose unsupervised all the time."

A telephone message left at the 12-year-old girl's home was not immediately returned and no one answered the door.

Orlando attorney David Hill said detectives may be able to pursue contributing to the delinquency of a minor charge for the parents, if they knew their daughters' were bullying Rebecca yet did nothing about it.

But it "will be easy to defend since the parents are going to say, 'We didn't know anything about it,'" said Hill, who is not involved in the case.

Perry Aftab, a New Jersey-based lawyer, told AP last month that it is difficult to bring charges against someone accused of driving a person to suicide, in part because of free-speech laws.

The case has illustrated, once more, the ways in which youngsters are using the Internet to torment others.

In a review of news articles last month, AP found about a dozen suicides in the U.S. since October 2010 that were attributed at least in part to cyberbullying. Aftab said she thought the number was at least twice that.

Before her death, Rebecca changed one of her online screen names to "That Dead Girl" and she messaged a boy in North Carolina: "I'm jumping." Detectives found some of her diaries at her home, and she talked of how depressed she was about the situation.

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 that she had been pushed in the hallway and that another girl wanted to fight her, Rebecca's mother began home-schooling her in Lakeland, a city of about 100,000 midway between Tampa and Orlando, Judd said.

This fall, Rebecca started at a new school, but the bullying continued online, authorities said.

"Rebecca's mother went above and beyond to create interventions. The one issue that Rebecca's mom said to us was, 'I just didn't want to have her not like me, so I wanted to give her access to her cell phone so she could talk to her friends,'" Judd said. "Rebecca's family is absolutely devastated by this. Quite frankly, we're all devastated by this."

 

Comments

The Answer Person

The electric chair for children works for me.

From the Grave

Put the kid in a private school(or home school), and stop looking at facebook, or, let the kid commit suicide and blame someone else...easy choice.

mikesee

I agree to an extent on this comment. While I feel sorry for anyone that has to endure this I must ask why.....don't they turn off the social media avenues? If they are being bullied on f/b turn it off! Phones..change numbers. etc.

I also wonder where the girls parents were on both sides. It is evident that the parents didn't monitor their children.

So sad that many lives have been ruined.

Mum-of-One

You can't turn off bullying. Where there is a will there is a way. There is nothing a victim does to deserve bullying. It is so disappointing that she and her family should be re-victimized on here. I hope that there are some serious consequences for the bullies. This is a tragedy. I hope that the victim's family gets the help they need to heal from this.

bnjjad

Exactly. A bully will find any avenue they can. They were often bullied themselves by friends/family or have their own internal demons and are good at finding ways around things (to bad this creative problem solving can't be harnessed for good).

Their are laws to protect the privacy of children on the internet, their need to be laws to protect the sanity as well.

Nemesis

First of all, there's no bullying involved here. None of them ever laid a hand on her or threatened to do so. Namecalling, gossip, and social ostracism are not bullying - they have only been misclassified as such by people who've never seen real bullying.

mikesee

You are correct that you can't turn off bullying and I am not defending the girls. The risk can be minimized however by taking certain measures.

ladydye_5

One of the "bully" parents are denying the charges. They say their child was "hacked". She didn't do it. Part of the problem. Still not taking responsibility.

bnjjad

Seriously? Cut off the kid from contact with peers or let them commit suicide?

Private School - Expensive
Home School - Not always avaliable if parents have to work.

Block all communications - Really? great way to foster child development.

This is a terrible situation, and it should have been handled before this extreme circumstance and the parents should have stepped in and maybe done more, but ultimately if the victim doesn't speak up enough they cannot do anything.

Facebook is for 13+ to begin with.

From the Grave

I guess she's cut off from her peers now anyway, so...

Nemesis

"Block all communications - Really? great way to foster child development."

Because, like, before social media and cell phones, all humanity could raise were generation upon generation of drooling morons, right?

Darkhorse

The country just sent a loud and clear message that bullying will not be tolerated.

Stop It

Really? Like the Tea party in the House of Reps? Bullying has been/is tolerated everywhere one goes.

Nemesis

They sent a loud and clear message that the First Amendment is null and void in order to protect people from social ostracism.

DickTracey

Parents are to blame on BOTH sides.

Dating a boy at age 12? Cell phone at age 12? Facebook page at age 12?

That's what happens when you let technology babysit and raise your kids.

The description of the 14 year olds environment speaks volumes, a pit bull stands guard over their trailer.

Buggers78

I'm sure hindsight is 20/20 for the 12 yr olds mother so rubbing salt in an open wound is unnecessary. I'm sure she is kicking herself for Facebook, cell phones and internet access. As for the 14 yr olds parents ... I don't think passing judgement about the dog they have or where they live is appropriate at all. That is a stereotype. I am not justifying the girls actions or saying daddy is right when he says his precious little baby is innocent when clearly she is a mouthy hateful little brat. The 2 girls should be charged. As for the parents, I don't know how well that will stick because unfortunately no one takes responsibility for their actions, which leads to their children not learning consequences. With that mentality of charging the parents... We should charge the 12 yr olds mom too for allowing this to happen and that is a ridiculous thing. Bullies will find a way no matter what. If the girls self esteem was that low, changing her number would do nothing because she will give it out to the wrong person and it will happen all over again. It's unfortunate, but I don't see where any other options other than locking her in a basement away from civilization would have saved her life. I am not even sure private school would have solved the problem. Bullies are everywhere ... Even well into adulthood. Surviving childhood would not have necessarily meant surviving adulthood. It's just really sad!

Nemesis

"I'm sure hindsight is 20/20 for the 12 yr olds mother so rubbing salt in an open wound is unnecessary. I'm sure she is kicking herself for Facebook, cell phones and internet access."

If so, then why is she not protesting the charges? No, if she supports these charges it means she believes she should be able to turn her kids loose on social media and have the government protect their feelings.

Centauri

http://flaglerlive.com/60123/reb...
"The Polk County Sheriff’s Office on Monday arrested charged two middle school students with felony aggravated stalking–or cyberbullying–in connection with the suicide of 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick in Lakeland on September 10, 2013."

Rebecca was also bullied in school. Where were the school authorities?

http://www.latintimes.com/articl...

Nothing has changed in over 50 years of school bullies. I have read that Rebecca fought back in school and was punished for fighting back. A lot of Rebecca's bullying went on in school.

50 years ago bullies picked on me in school. The school authorities told me that I need to "grow up" and that bullies were the way of life. The bullies continued to bully me and one day I really "lost it" and fought back. Guess who got in trouble? I did!

Perhaps all of the bullying that I took through life became what I am today. I decided to go after the crook adult bullies who continue to bully innocent people through the courts or the government. I will take each bully down one at a time. You can count on it! One at a time!

Informed

One of the main issues deals with people's inborn levels on sensitivity. Some kids just have a thicker skin than others, and can deal with more and handle things better than others. Other kids are born very tender and sensitive. More and more research is showing that this is, in fact, an inborn trait and that you can't expect some children to just toughen up, get a thicker skin, suck it up, and deal with. It's just not part of their psyche. These kids are vulnerable and tend to be the ones picked on by bullies and abused by adults. We need to protect these children!

Nemesis

And yet, this country has been successfully defended, through harrowing, bloody wars largely by conscripted men plucked at random from throughout the population, subjected to roughly 12 weeks of training, and thrust into some of the worst situations imaginable. History consisted largely of peoples' surprising ability to rise to life's challenges until the social sciences started teaching people to view the choices they made as externally imposed things happening to them.

Informed

We are talking about children, first of all, not adults. But even those adults you mention, many came home from war with what was then called "battle fatigue", abused alcohol, and had trouble adjusting to society. We now know this as post-traumatic stress disorder.

Nemesis

Interesting how the incidence of those coming home with problems increased when the social scientists convinced society to place feelings ahead of principles. A thicker skin can be learned - notice that, before the welfare state, poor people generally had more resilience than those born to wealth, and those from less developed and/or more authoritarian countries generally are more resilient than most Americans. That which does not kill you makes you stronger.

In any event, we're not talking about combat, natural disasters, or horrendous trauma here; we're talking about name-calling, gossip, and social ostracism - things that kids of prior generations dealt with all the time, even as they faced REAL bullying, i.e. physical violence and credible threats of it. If a kid commits suicide over what essentially amounts to being unpopular, then something in his/her upbringing led him/her to grossly overvalue popularity. The only difference from a kid who takes up smoking to become "cool" is the speed of the self destruction.