FOR THE WEEK OF APR 05, 2010
Tragic bullying lesson: Harassment and a lack of help results in death and criminal charges
Look for coverage of teens and other students who support each other or their communities.
The Massachusetts case involves education, law enforcement and online behavior. Find an article or column about at least one of these topics in another situation.
Though it's not the same as bullying, harsh comments sometimes appear in reader forums on newspaper websites. Discuss the pros and cons of allowing posts under anonymous screen names.
As a new student from another country, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince had a particularly tough time at South Hadley High in western Massachusetts. Schoolmates harassed and threatened the freshman for nearly three months, including via text messages and Facebook posts. The intense bullying led to her suicide at home early this year, a prosecutor says. That shattering outcome now focuses fresh attention on the severe damage nasty hounding can bring -- including to the bullies.
The local prosecutor last week filed criminal charges against nine students accused of tormenting the teen, who moved to town from Ireland last fall. "Relentless activity directed toward Phoebe [was] designed to humiliate her," says District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel, a graduate of the same school. The six oldest defendants, aged 16 to 18, are charged with felonies as adults and face possible prison terms.
Though childhood bullying is nothing new, some experts say the Internet makes it worse because taunts are posted on social networks or texted. Phoebe Prince's death prompted heated community debates about the role of school administrators, who had been aware of the mistreatment. "The actions, or inactions, of some adults at the school are troublesome," the prosecutor says.
Prosecutor says: "It appears that Phoebe's death Jan. 14 followed a torturous day for her, in which she was subjected to verbal harassment and threatened physical abuse." -- District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel
Principal says: "I've almost seen this like an earthquake, and we've been dealing with the aftershocks." -- Dan Smith, South Hadley High Shool
Columnist says: "The name-calling, the stalking, the intimidation was relentless." -- Kevin Cullen, Boston Globe
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