Cyberbullies take another life!
In the summer of 2009, Phoebe Prince and her family left Ireland for Massachusetts where she “could experience America.” She started her freshman year in September at South Hadley High School.
She became friends with a senior football player and briefly dated. As a result, she became a target for a few girls who didn’t think Phoebe knew her place. She was called a slut and a whore and was hounded by the “Mean Girls” by text message, in person and on Facebook. The girls have yet to be officially named or charged with cyberbullying.
On January 14, 2010, 15 year old Phoebe hanged herself at home following weeks of harrassment. Walking home that day, a car approached and more comments were thrown her way along with a soda can. Phoebe’s 12-year-old sister found her. She left her parents, three sisters and a brother. Days before she had accepted a date to a school dance. The police continue to interview students and school officials.
Pending the investigation, the school suspended some students and later announced that a few would not be returning to South Hadley High. No further explanation was offered regarding whether the students voluntarily changed schools or were expelled.
Even after her death, Phoebe’s online memorial page was desecrated. Facebook removed taunting and cruel comments. Massachusetts did not have a law against cyberbullying at the time of Phoebe’s death. However, the legislature got to work and passed a bill (House Bill 483) a few months later calling for bullying prevention programs in grades K-12.
The following is from Phoebe’s obituary printed in the local newspaper on January 22, 2010:
“Phoebe was gifted with exceptional beauty – but that is not important. She was gifted with a sharp and creative brain – but that is not important. She had impressive artistic talent – but that is not important. What her family and friends from both sides of the Atlantic grieve is the loss of the incandescent enthusiasm of a life blossoming. . . .she touched many lives with her Irish mannerisms and sense of humor. Phoebe will forever live in the hearts of her many friends here in America and Ireland.”
Update: It was announced on March 29, 2010 that nine teenagers were charged with a variety of crimes involving Phoebe. Two boys, ages 17 and 18, were charged with statutory rape and the others with a combination of assault, stalking, criminal harassment, violation of Phoebe’s civil rights and disturbance of a school assembly. In September, 2010, trial was set for Sean Mulveyhill to begin in March, 2011. Sean is charged with criminal harassment, violation of civil rights, statutory rape and disturbing a school assembly. In May, 2011, five of the six students reached an agreement with the prosecutor. They pleaded guilty to one count of criminal harassment and the remaining charges were dismissed. Watch the video below for a story regarding Sean Mulveyhill (18) and Kayla Narey (18) at their hearings on May 4, 2011. The statutory rape charge against Austin Renaud was dismissed in the interest of justice and with the agreement of Phoebe’s family. See the final penalties for the five defendents here: http://www.askthejudge.info/defendants-in-phoebe-prince-case-plead-guilty/9596/
In November, 2010 a settlement was reached for an undisclosed amount in a civil rights lawsuit filed by Phoebe’s parents, Anne and Jeremy Prince. In July, 2010 they sued the school district, superintendent, principal and others for failing to take appropriate measures to protect their daughter including failing to notify them of incidents at school. Anne O’Brien spoke publicly for the first time in November, 2011. She was a guest on the Piers Morgan Show (CNN) and explained that cyberbullying was a “small component” of the bullying her daughter faced in person. In fact, she stated, Phoebe was bullied online more after her death than before. It was disclosed in December, 2011, that the settlement reached with Phoebe’s parents for dropping all lawsuits and claims against the school districts and indiduals named in the lawsuit was for $225,000.
In 2010, California philanthropist J. Michael Mahoney, established a $50,000 scholarship in Phoebe’s name. Called the Phoebe Prince Memorial Scholarship Endowed Fund, it commemorates a young life cut short. Mr. Mahoney commented that Phoebe’s Scholarship as well as others he has endowed are meant “to keep their lives going, in a way. Their name can go on and on in scholarships that help other people.”
2011: Before Phoebe’s passing, a school trip had been planned to Ireland. Private fundraisers and donations from parents are being used to send about 40 students, parents and chaperones to County Clare in April, 2011. There has been some controversy over the trip since the lead chaperone is a teacher from the school who is thought to have bullied Phoebe online after her death in January, 2010.
Update: An unfortunate twist from Phoebe’s passing is the reported bullying of Payton Spinney. She is a 16-year-old sophomore at the same school as Phoebe. As freshman they had classes together and became friends. Payton suffers from Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism. Her special education plan calls for weekly counseling, a seat in the classroom where there is minimal distraction, and extra time on tests and for complex homework assignments. Payton has reported being bullied at school by name calling, food thrown at her and constant teasing and taunts. She has reported that she has been tormented by her peers so badly that she has considered suicide. Hopefully, her mother and the school can address this promptly.
In a similar case in Michigan, 14-year-old Samantha Kelly was a freshman when she accused a senior of rape. She became the target of bullies after she and her mother filed sexual assault charges against the boy in September, 2010. Following a month of face-to-face bullying at school and online harassment, Samantha hanged herself at home on November 8, 2010. In the absence of his accuser, the charges were dropped against the 18-year-old boy.
Do you know anyone who is being bullied online or by text message? What can you do to help him or her? Do you think it’s something that will stop on its own or just move on to someone else? What about your brothers or sisters – have you talked with them lately about online safety and walking away from the computer when an upsetting, mean message comes through? Discuss this with each other and your parents. Even one lost life is too many, especially when it could be avoided through education and awareness about cyberbullying.
The YouTube video below highlights a few victims of cyberbullying – we all can help prevent another senseless loss.