Video: Teens charged with bullying over suicide

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    >>> case where a teenager took her own life after months of bullying and harassment.

    >> reporter: south hadley high school is in a massachusetts college smunt known for good schools. but today people are asking, why the school failed to protect one student from being tormented to death by several others. 15-year-old phoebe prince, an irish immigrant , was found by her younger sister hanged in a closet in her home. she committed suicide after months of what prosecutors called unrelenting bullying that became intolerable.

    >> from information known to investigators thus far, it appears that phoebe 's death on january 14th followed a torturous day for her in which she was subjected to verbal harassment and threatened physical abuse .

    >> reporter: now, nearly 11 weeks after her death, nine teenagers, including a group of girls, have been indicted and charged with stalking, criminal harassment, and violating phoebe 's civil rights . two boys face charges of statutory rape . on the day of her death, authorities say the bullying followed phoebe from the halls of the high school and into the streets as she made her way home. at one point a can was thrown at her from a car. it may have been the final straw . authorities speculate phoebe was targeted because she was the pretty new girl at school . she had gotten attention from a popular football player and one of the alleged tormenters was jealous. despite pleas of help from phoebe 's parents, she was harassed on facebook, her cell phone , but mostly at school .

    >> phoebe 's harassment was common knowledge to most of the south hadley high school student body . the investigation has revealed that certain faculty, staff and administrators of the high school also were alerted to the harassment of phoebe prince before her death.

    >> reporter: experts say it's painfully familiar.

    >> we consider it a right of passage, and everyone says it's just bullying, it's words, who cares if somebody shoves you into the locker. but we're now seeing more and more teens who are taking their lives as bullying becomes constant.

    >> reporter: sadly, even after her death, officials say phoebe 's bullies persisted sending disparaging remarks to her facebook memorial page. an unthinkable last torment. for "today," rehema ellis, nbc news, new york .

    >> dan abrams is nbc 's chief legal analyst and dr. susan lipkins is a bullying expert and the founder of i saw you both shaking your heads. it is just incredible what this case makes us feel. dan, how unusual are criminal charges like this in a case like this?

    >> pretty unusual. generally this is dealt with in civil courts , meaning generally even when something this horrible happens, the family will sue the school or the individuals, et cetera . what this prosecutor is saying effectively is this conduct was so egregious that they went in to the criminal code effectively and figured out what possible crimes could they charge any of these teens with, and they went through and they said, criminal harassment, stalking.

    >> violating of civil rights . two male teens have been charged with statutory rape . but does that mean if in fact they went into the statute to find if they could be charged with any possible crimes that it may be a fishing expedition to actually find them guilty?

    >> it is a fair question, except that prosecutorial discretion is pretty wide, meaning prosecutors have a lot of options as to what they can do and what they can't do. in this case the prosecutors decided we're going to go by the letter of the law . we are convinced that we'll be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt each and every one of these crimes. but with regard to the question of does this happen very often, even in this type of case, the answer is, no. definitely an aggressive prosecution here but not farfetched.

    >> talk about the psychology of this, susan . people might wonder what is going on in the mind of a young girl going through all of this and that makes her so vulnerable, especially when we find out that the school officials had been talked to by phoebe 's parents and the situation did not change.

    >> well, i think that we don't have a school system which really addresses bullying and from the top-down, all the way from the superintendent to the custodian and all the parents, all the faculty, and all the students are bystanders who can have the power to interconvenieintervene and change the system . we see there is an increase in the violence and sexuality of the bullying that's going on.

    >> i know, dan, that those in massachusetts , a law has come out of phoebe 's death and this law would require school officials to report what?

    >> remember, it came after the fact so they can't apply it now to this incident. what effectively it is saying is, if school officials know of bullying that could be criminal, meaning the very crimes we're talking about here, they're required legally now to report that to the authorities. a lot of people here are saying how did the authorities know? why did it take them so long to realize that this is a real problem? why did it take her death? what the legislature is saying is, we need to force the school official, not just ask them, not just request, but force them.

    >> that's just in massachusetts . susan , you say that bullying is on the rise. you also make a link to what seems to be an increase in our popular culture where sort of meanness, reality programs are everywhere you look, it is kind of okay, we shouldn't get ruffled when there is a degree of meanness. is this idea something -- is this the kind of fall-back that other states might want to consider?

    >> well, yes. i consider it vulture culture . we see that in the reality shows and a lot of television and media which is reflecting our reality that we're increasing people's -- the way that they react, meaning that we're actually showing them how to be demeaning and how to be degrading and how to bully. that's part of what the media is doing.

    >> are you saying this is causing a reason for the rise?

    >> i think the reflection back and forth, when you see it on " gossip girl " or " american idol ," we're sitting around with our parents and it is okay to be degrading, we are implying that it is okay.

    >> i think it is much more disconcerting what happened at the school than it is to sort of look at the media at large. i'm not saying that we can't and shouldn't, but the fact that school officials -- remember, some of this bullying occurred in front of people who worked at the school .

    >> but i would say, having -- and you know having covered these kinds of stories before, that this is not -- this has happened before .

    >> it has.

    >> that other school districts have witnessed and said, oh, these are just kids. they go on with their mission in life. so the question is, if parents aren't stopping bullying, because they feel it's helpless, and the school districts are not stopping bullying because they feel helpless, is it time this country has deeper laws? really makes it criminally liable to bully a child in school ?

    >> i think we'll see as we see more of these incidents, we'll see legislatures respond. that's what leads to changes in the law. it is events like this that spur legislatures to say we have to say, enough is enough.

    >> dan abrams , so much. susan , doctor, thank you so much

updated 3/30/2010 8:29:02 AM ET 2010-03-30T12:29:02

Nine teens have been charged in the "unrelenting" bullying of a teenage girl from Ireland who killed herself after being raped and enduring months of torment by classmates in person and online, a prosecutor said Monday.

Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel said 15-year-old Phoebe Prince of South Hadley was stalked and harassed nearly constantly from September until she killed herself Jan. 14. The freshman had recently moved to western Massachusetts from Ireland.

"The investigation revealed relentless activities directed toward Phoebe to make it impossible for her to stay at school. The bullying for her was intolerable," Scheibel said.

Six teens — four girls and two boys — face charges including assault, violation of civil rights resulting in injury, criminal harassment, disturbance of a school assembly and stalking. In addition the two boys face rape charges. Three other, younger girls face delinquency charges.

Scheibel said the harassment began in September. She said school officials knew about the bullying, but none will face criminal charges.

"The actions of these students were primarily conducted on school grounds during school hours and while school was in session," the prosecutor said.

Scheibel refused to discuss the circumstances of the rape charges.

Family moved away
Prince's family has moved away from the area and could not immediately be located for comment. Scheibel spoke for them at a news conference to announce the charges.

"The Prince family has asked that the public refrain from vigilantism in favor of allowing the judicial system an opportunity to provide a measure of justice for Phoebe," she said.

Some students accused of participating in the bullying have been disciplined by the school and will not be returning to classes.

Scheibel said the case is still under investigation, and there may be additional charges.

The Massachusetts Legislature cited Prince's death and the apparent suicide of 11-year-old Carl Walker-Hoover of Springfield last year when members passed anti-bullying legislation earlier this month.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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