Belfast Telegraph

Friday 19 September 2014

Nine charged in US after bullied Irish student kills herself

A candlelight vigil is held outside South Hadley High School in Massachusetts the day after freshman Phoebe Prince killed herself after a relentless bullying campaign against her

Whatever the Prince family expected for their daughter Phoebe when they moved to America from a village in the west of Ireland, it cannot have been what eventually transpired. Phoebe only joined her Massachusetts school last autumn. Within six months, she had hanged herself in a clothes cupboard, the victim of a “relentless” bullying campaign.

In the aftermath of her death, the school community has been forced to confront terrible questions about the way some of its children treated the newcomer in their midst.

But this week, criminal charges have been filed against nine of the teenagers who made her life so miserable. Now that the charges have been announced, Phoebe's parents and other observers have been asking another question: what about the teachers who failed to protect her?

The case, which has sent waves of dismay across the entire state and even nationally, centres on the misery suffered by Phoebe Prince, who was just 15-years-old when she took her own life on January 14, after what a prosecutor said had been months of bullying and taunting on school grounds, all arising, apparently, from her having dared briefly to date a school football player who was popular with other female students.

One student is charged with statutory rape, violation of civil rights with bodily injury resulting, criminal harassment and disturbance of a school assembly.

Another male student face charges of statutory rape in addition to the charges filed against four female students that range from assault, violation of civil rights resulting in injury and criminal harassment to disturbance of a school assembly and stalking. Three other younger girls face juvenile charges. The abuse, which included the declaration that the girl was an “Irish slut”, were made both in person and in text messages on Facebook.

Massachusetts' Governor, Deval Patrick, said the charges, which could bring heavy sentences, are “a message that there will be consequences for this kind of behaviour”. He added: “It's a terrible tragedy and all of us want to see consequences.”

The death of Phoebe, who grew up in Co Clare, but was born in Bedford, England, was among cases that spurred the state legislature in Boston to pass new anti-bullying laws earlier this month.

The District Attorney who announced the charges, Betsey Scheibel, said Phoebe's death “followed a torturous day for her in which she was subjected to verbal harassment and threatened physical abuse”.

Her tormentors threw a can at her as she walked home. Ms Prince was later found hanging in a cupboard by her sister wearing the clothes she had worn to school.

The tormenting of the girl lasted for months, however, almost from her first day at the school in South Hadley, a town in western Massachusetts where her family had settled after leaving Ireland last September.

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

But not everyone at her new school loathed her: Sergio Loubriel (14) told the Boston Herald that he had asked her to a winter dance with him, and regretted that he had never told her that he had a crush on her.

“I wish I could have stopped it,” he said. “I wish I could have talked to her when she got home.”

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