Five teens charged with bullying that contributed to the suicide of Phoebe Prince accepted plea deals this week, ending the long court-proceedings and offering Prince’s family some closure. But the question remains: What can be done to prevent this from happening again?
The 15-year-old moved from Ireland to Massachusetts in 2010 and began attending South Hadley High School as a freshman. Prosecutors say Prince was targeted by a group of girls because she had briefly dated a senior football player, Sean Mulveyhill, and another popular student. They allegedly intimidated her and called her names, both at school and on the Internet. Prince committed suicide Jan. 14.
Mulveyhill, who prosecutors say encouraged some of the girls to bully Prince after he broke up with her, and Kayla Narey pleaded guilty to criminal harassment Wednesday and were sentenced to a year’s probation and community service. Mulveyhill didn’t speak, while Narey told the court, “I am immensely ashamed of myself that I allowed my emotions to spiral into acts of unkindness.” Three other students — Ashley Longe, Sharon Chanon Velazquez and Flannery Mullins— accepted similar deals on Thursday. None of the five teens will serve any jail time. The single statutory rape charge against Austin Renaud was dropped yesterday.
Anne O’Brien, Prince’s mother, addressed the court yesterday, saying “It is nearly impossible to measure the impact of Phoebe’s death upon our lives. ... There is a dead weight that now sits permanently in my chest.” She also read one of Prince’s last texts: “I can’t take much more. ... It would be easier if he or the other of them handed me a noose.” Watch O’Brien’s comments below:
This heart-breaking suicide, along with several similar cases, has brought national attention to bullying and cyber-bullying. The Post’s Valerie Strauss wrote that, although more than 40 states have a law that makes bullying illegal, it is not enough to stop the problem:
“Researchers say that the only kind of anti-bullying program with any hope of reducing such behavior involves the entire school community, such as the the Olweus Program (pronounced Ol-VEY-us) for elementary, junior high and middle schools. (You can find reports analyzing different bullying programs here.) That means that every adult in the school, from the principal to the janitor, must be trained in how to recognize bullying and what actions to take to stop it.”
In March, President Obama hosted the White House Conference on Bullying Prevention, where he said he was bullied as a kid, and launched stopbullying.gov. The president had previously recorded an anti-bullying message for the “It Gets Better” campaign, created by columnist Dan Savage “to inspire hope for young people facing harassment.”
What do you think needs to be done to prevent bullying? Let us know in the comments.