Some Parents Outraged No School Officials Charged in Teen Cyberbullying Case

Students charged in alleged bullying case that apparently led to teen's suicide.

January 25, 2010, 10:32 PM

March 30, 2010— -- Some parents of South Hadley High School students expressed outrage Monday night that no school officials were charged in the Massachusetts cyberbullying, suicide case.

"This should have never happened and they should have done something about it," said one mother who attended the town's first anti-bullying task force meeting at the high school. "I think they should be brought up on charges as well."

Another mother accused the town of "hiding behind whatever it is they can get away with hiding behind."

Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel Monday charged nine teens in connection with the alleged "unrelenting" bullying of 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, who hanged herself Jan. 14 after nearly three months of apparently routine torment by students at the school, via text messages and through social networking site Facebook.

Two of the students face charges of statutory rape, which Scheibel refused to discuss. None of the teenagers charged commented when contacted by ABC News.

Scheibel made no mention of any action against school officials, even though she said school administrators knew of the alleged bullying.

"Prior to Phoebe's death, her mother spoke with at least two school staff members. ...The actions or inactions of some adults at the school are troublesome," Scheibel said.

State Representative John Scibak, who represents the western Massachusetts town, said he believed there should be disciplinary action taken against school officials.

"I think if people knew about it and did not report it, this is a very serious allegation and one that really needs to be investigated," Scibak said.

The school board said it would review the evidence from the district attorney's investigation, which it said did not come to light in its own investigation.

Anti-Bullying Legislation

The charges Monday shocked the community, Scibak said, "in terms of the level of charges, the breadth of those charges and some of the comments being made by the district attorney, specifically with respect to what the adults knew and didn't act on."

Scibak said he supported legislation, which has passed the Massachusetts House and Senate, that would address bullying and, specifically, cyberbullying in public schools.

"It would require that schools provide training to parents, to teachers, to students, that incidents of bullying must be reported [and] the principal, upon hearing that determines whether this should go to law enforcement officials. The parents of the bully as well as the victim must be called in, it needs to be addressed," Scibak said.

Scibak said he hopes to have the bill on Gov. Deval Patrick's desk to sign in the next few weeks.

Prince, a freshman, was reportedly harassed by older girls who resented her dating an older football player.

Prosecutor Scheibel said Prince's bullying was the result of a romantic relationship she had with one of the male suspects that ended weeks before her suicide.

Scheibel called Prince's suicide "the culmination of a nearly three-month campaign of verbally assaultive behavior and threats of physical harm."

On the day Prince committed suicide, authorities said the students berated her in the school lunchroom and library, even throwing a can of Red Bull at her as she walked home.

"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."

Prince hanged herself in her home, days after accepting an invitation to a winter school dance and only months after immigrating 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.

Five of the teens have been charged with, among other things, violation of civil rights resulting in bodily injury. One of those, a 17-year-old male, has also been charged with statutory rape. An 18-year-old male faces only statutory rape charges. Three 16-year-old South Hadley girls face delinquency charges that include the civil rights offense, criminal harassment and disturbance of a school assembly.

Nine Students Charged in Cyberbullying Case

Of the six students facing the severest charges, 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.

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