Rebecca Ann Sedwick, 12, jumped to her death from the top of a silo at a derelict cement plant last month. On Monday, the Polk County sheriff’s department arrested two of her classmates, charging them with aggravated stalking, a third-degree felony. According to affidavits filed in the case, the girls’ actions were “a contributing factor” in Sedwick’s suicide.
They urged Sedwick to kill herself, authorities said. The 12-year-old, at the behest of the 14-year-old, beat her. After Sedwick’s death, the older girl posted on her Facebook page: “Yes ik [I know] I bullied Rebecca nd she killed her self but IDGAF [I don’t give a (expletive)],” according to news reports.
Under Florida law, the name of anyone charged with a felony is public record. Following standard operating procedure, the sheriff’s office released the names of the arrestees as well as their mug shots. The Washington Post typically does not identify juveniles charged with a crime.
“People need to know who felons are in the community, whether they’re adults or children,” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd at a news conference Tuesday, in which he urged parents to be aware of their children’s behavior.
Sue Scheff, who runs Parent’s Universal Resource Experts, a resource group for parents with troubled youth, commended Judd. “Hats off to the sheriff,” she said. “I think it’s great. I think parents need to wake up and be shaken up a little bit.”
Other experts said that arresting the two girls might convey the opposite message. “The decision to charge them almost seems to take responsibility away from the adults,” said Nadine Connell, a criminologist at the University of Texas at Dallas. She said adolescents are too immature to understand the consequences of bullying, but that parents and school officials had an obligation to intervene earlier.
Juveniles have been charged in bullying cases before. In 2010, five were charged after the suicide of Phoebe Prince, a Massachusetts high school student. Their names were also made public.
Yet for a defendant as young as 12 to be charged with a felony for bullying surprised experts, despite the extreme and sustained nature of the abuse Sedwick received.
“I think this is uncharted territory,” said Justin Patchin, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Patchin also questioned Judd’s decision. “He wants to make a statement, He wants to let them know: ‘If you do this, I’m going to come after you.’ I just don’t know if it’s going to work.”