Immigrant Teen Taunted by Cyberbullies Hangs Herself

Irish family came here to discover America.

January 25, 2010, 10:32 PM

Jan. 26, 2010— -- Even in death, Phoebe Prince was bullied. On a memorial page dedicated to the Massachusetts teen who had recently committed suicide, Facebook members left taunting comments that had to be removed.

The 15-year-old -- a recent immigrant from Ireland with a pretty face and a soft brogue -- was found dead in her South Hadley home Jan. 14, according to police.

Afterward, her fellow students came forward to tell school officials that Prince had been teased incessantly, taunted by text messages and harassed on social networking sites like Facebook.

"It's heart-wrenching," said South Hadley Police Chief David LaBrie. "She had only moved here last summer."

"We are looking at all factors," said LaBrie, who was assisting the Northwest District Attorney's office with an investigation into Prince's death.

LaBrie refused to discuss the details of Prince's suicide out of "respect for the family's privacy.

"It's tremendously emotionally draining on the family and the whole community right now," he told "It's such a sad thing."

Many in the suburban community of about 17,000 in western Massachusetts was in shock after learning that Prince had reportedly hung herself just days after accepting a date to a high school dance.

In a letter to parents, Principal Daniel Smith called Prince "smart, charming, and as is the case with many teenagers, complicated. ... We will never know the specific reasons why she chose to take her life.''

Prince is not the only case of apparent bullying that has sparked national headlines.

In 2006, Megan Meier killed herself after the mother of a former friend created a fictitious profile to harass the Missouri 13-year-old. Three years earlier, 13-year-old Ryan Patrick Halligan of Vermont hung himself after he'd been bullied online.

Just this week in Lewisville, Texas, a 9-year-old boy hung himself in the nurse's bathroom at his elementary school.

"It's just sad. I can't imagine what would make a 9-year-old boy feel this way," Stephanie Rodriguez, the school's PTA treasurer, told ABC affiliate WFAA television.

This is apparently the second high-profile suicide bullying case in Massachusetts in the past year. In nearby Springfield, 11-year-old Carl Joseph Walker-Hoover hung himself with an extension cord after bullies repeatedly called him gay.

In the case of Phoebe Prince, the family recently relocated from a tiny village in the west of Ireland. But she had trouble adjusting to her new school and became the victim of incessant bullying by classmates.

"The real problem now is the texting stuff and the cyberbullying,'' South Hadley School Superintendent Gus A. Sayer told the Boston Globe. "Some kids can be very mean towards one another using that medium.''

Sayer and other officials at the 700-student high school did not return calls from

Suicide Prompts Investigation

First Assistant District Attorney Renee Steese said her office is conducting an "open investigation" of the circumstances of Prince's death with local and state police, as well as the medical examiner.

"It's a small community, and obviously for the family a tragic loss," she told

Bullying has become increasingly common in schools throughout the United States.

The National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center estimated that nearly 30 percent of American youth are either a bully or a target of bullying.

In addition, researchers at the Yale School of Medicine, in a new review of studies from 13 countries, found signs of an apparent connection between bullying, being bullied and suicide.

"The incidence of bullying is getting more and more frequent and takes lots of forms," said Herbert Nieberg, associate professor of criminal justice at Mitchell College in Connecticut and a psychologist who specializes in adolescents.

And when the bullying moves to the Internet, the trauma to the victim is "astronomically" escalated, according to Nieberg.

"In the old days kids would threaten to beat someone up, but now it's gone into the cyberworld," he told "Kids go on to Facebook because they get a wider audience than in the hallway."

Cyberbullying also appeals to the crowd instinct, according to Nieberg. "Everybody likes to watch the action. Why do three girls on Long Island beat up another young woman and put it on YouTube? They vicariously enjoy identifying with the aggressor."

Why some teens can survive their tormentors and others cannot depends on their self-image and psychological mood. "Anyone with a mood disorder is at risk," said Nieberg.

"The answer is vulnerability versus resiliency," he said. "Some kids are good copers."

But some advocates say Massachusetts, a typically progressive state, falls behind 37 other states that have taken action on school bullying. Several bills before the state legislature address school bullying.

House Bill 483, sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League of New England, would require schools to have anti-bullying training and procedures in place. It would also require districts to produce an annual report citing incidents for the state legislature and the department of primary and secondary education

"We take no comfort or false security that we grew up with bullying and what's the big deal, we survived," said Derrek Shulman, regional director of the ADL.

"Statistics show in a survey of fourth- and eighth-graders that a large percentage said they had been bullied or were bullied themselves," he told

"We know that bullies are more likely to get into trouble with narcotics and law enforcement and that the bullied suffer from self-esteem and there are significant repercussions on being productive members of the community," he said.


Students Hold Vigil

Meanwhile, hundreds attended a candlelight vigil organized by students on the South Hadley High School softball field the day after Phoebe Prince died.

Parents are also pushing to create an anti-bullying task force at the high school. But the first meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, has been postponed for a month.

Prince's death notice in the Springfield Republican newspaper said she left three sisters and a brother.

Her family members, who couldn't be reached for comment, wrote that they had moved to South Hadley so the family could experience America.

"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 national suicide prevention lifeline number is (800) 273-TALKTALK.