May 2, 2008 — -- Debbie Johnston accomplished her emotional three-year mission this week when the Florida legislature passed a tough anti-bullying law named in honor of her son, who committed suicide in 2005.
The Jeffrey Johnston Stand Up for All Students Act requires schools in the state to adopt policies to discourage bullying in person and online or risk losing state funding. Florida Gov. Charlie Crist is expected to sign the bill into law today.
Jeff Johnston grew up a well-liked, straight-A student, who seemed to have a bright future. But after enduring two years of taunts and Internet attacks, Jeff took his own life at 15.
"I just remember screaming just, 'No,' over and over again," Debbie Johnston said.
Other kids soon came forward detailing the relentless bullying Jeff faced. Johnston said her son felt he couldn't escape it.
"He said, 'Mom, where can I go? Everybody knows. There's no place I can hide,'" she said.
Johnston said Jeff reported the bullying to school officials, and told them that Robert Roemmick was his primary tormenter.
Roemmick admits that he called Jeff names over the Internet, which spread through to other students.
"We would write, 'Oh, look what Jeff did today. How weird is he? He is creepy, he is a stalker,'" Roemmick told ABC News.
Roemmick said he apologized to Debbie Johnston over the phone, but despite Jeff's suicide, he still justifies his behavior.
"I said I was sorry for her loss, but even in his passing, I'm not sorry for why I said it," Roemmick said.
According to statistics from the Department of Justice, 77 percent of middle school students say they have been bullied or threatened by other kids.
While 35 states encourage schools to spell out anti-bullying policies, Florida is only the second state to penalize schools that don't comply. Under the law, Florida schools will also have to follow up on reports of bullying by contacting the parents of all students involved, including the bullies.
David Tirella, an attorney who campaigned for the Jeff Johnston bill, said threatening to hold back funds from schools was a final resort.
"We tried reason, we tired logic, we tried morality, we tried legality to take care of these students and it didn't work," Tirella told ABC News. "So you know what we're trying now? The pocketbook."
Debbie Johnston, the grieving mother turned crusader, is determined to make her son's legacy a positive one.
"We're gonna change the world," she said. "We're gonna prove to my little brown-eyed baby boy that one person can make a difference."