Nearly a year after 15-year-old Phoebe Prince hanged herself in her family's South Hadley, Mass., home after alleged bullying and harassment by her classmates, Phoebe's family is calling for more awareness about teenage suicide.
"I think the truest justice for Phoebe is to speak out on her behalf against the despair and the pain that our children are holding inside and to make it better ... for another child," Eileen Moore, the aunt of Phoebe Phoebe, said. "I don't have the answers, I just know we have a crisis and we need to do something."
With the blessing of Phoebe's family, a group of Boston area teenagers called the Samaritans is holding a fundraiser -- "Make Noise to Save a Life" -- tonight to raise awareness about suicide prevention.
"Our children are in desperate pain," Moore said. "We're not listening, we're not hearing their pain, we need to start an active conversation."
Phoebe, who would have turned 16 in November, was found dead in January. Her family had recently moved to South Hadley from Ireland. Following her death, friends came forward to describe her torment.
"A lot people just would always like taunt and tease her, just call her names," Kate Broderick, a friend of Phoebe's, said. The taunting extended to text messages, and harassment on social networking sites such as Facebook.
Last July, Anne O'Brien Prince and William Allan Jeremy Prince, Phoebe's parents, filed a discrimination suit with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, citing "sexual harassment in an educational institution" as the basis for the complaint that named South Hadley Public Schools; Superintendent Gus Sayer; Principal Dan Smith; Vice Principal William Evans and other members of the school staff, alleging that they "failed to adequately address or remedy the harassing conduct of the school's students, which had the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with Phoebe's education by creating an intimidating, hostile, humiliating and sexually offensive educational environment."
The six-page document cited several specific incidents in which Vice Principal William Evans learned of multiple acts of bullying and failed to follow school disciplinary procedures. One example occurred Jan. 8, 2010, by a student referred to as "Student B, who admitted to verbally assaulting and threatening Phoebe and calling her vulgar and offensive epithets. Despite the admission, the complaint alleges neither "Mr. Evans nor any other administrator contacted Phoebe's parents to address the harassing conduct."
Officials from the school have always maintained that they acted in accordance with school policy and could not have prevented her death.
The family withdrew the lawsuit Nov. 5, agreeing to an undisclosed settlement. Jeremy Prince maintains that school officials ignored the attacks on his daughter.
In an interview with Ireland's Evening Herald, Prince said, "The whole culture was wrong at that school. The school turned a blind eye."
Despite the the settlement, the Boston Globe recently reported that federal prosecutors are now investigating the school's handling of the case.
A federal investigation could at last answer questions about how much school officials knew about the alleged bullying and what they did or did not do to try to stop it.