Nine Massachusetts teenagers have been charged in the "unrelenting" bullying of a 15-year-old girl who killed herself in January, prosecutors said today. Two of them were charged with statutory rape.
Phoebe Prince, a recent Irish immigrant, hanged herself Jan. 14 after nearly three months of routine torment by students at South Hadley High School, via text message, and through the social networking site, Facebook.
Prince, a freshman, was reportedly harassed by older girls who resented her dating an older football player. Her death shook the town of South Hadley and prompted the Massachusetts legislature to pass a law introducing an anti-bullying curriculum in the state's public schools.
Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel said Prince's bullying was the result of a romantic relationship she had with one of the male suspects that ended weeks prior to her suicide.
Scheibel called Prince's suicide "the culmination of a nearly three-month campaign of verbally assaultive behavior and threats of physical harm." In at least one instance she was attacked when a girl pelted her with a soft drink can.
"The investigation revealed relentless activity directed toward Phoebe, designed to humiliate her and to make it impossible for her to remain at school," Scheibel said. "The bullying, for her, became intolerable."
"Nevertheless, the actions — or inactions — of some adults at the school are troublesome," she said.
The district attorney said school administrators knew of the bullying but none would be charged.
Prince hanged herself in her home, days after accepting an invitation to a winter school dance and only months after emigrating to the small western Massachusetts town from Ireland. Her younger sister found Prince's body in the stairwell leading to the family's second-story apartment.
Six of the teens will be indicted on charges connected to Prince's suicide. Three of the indicted students are girls, charged with violating Prince's civil rights, criminal harassment and disturbing a school assembly.
Two of the indicted students, a 17-year-old male and an 18-year-old male, will also be charged with statutory rape. Criminal complaints were filed against three other students.
Of the six indicted students, three are still students at the school and three were expelled in February.
"These students' lives have also been dramatically altered, and they won't be graduating from South Hadley High School," Principal Daniel T. Smith said at the time.
The Prince family has not spoken publicly about the girl's suicide. In a death notice printed in the Springfield Republican newspaper, they wrote:
"What her family and friends from both sides of the Atlantic grieve is the loss of the incandescent enthusiasm of a life blossoming," the notice read. "She enjoyed life with an energy only the young possess."
The Associated Press contributed to this story.