The tragic suicide of a teenager harassed for an amateur porn video

“I’m Stella Ann. I’m 18, from Minnesota,” the brunette says into the camera. She wears a beige blouse and speaks in the flat tones of the Midwest. “I want to be a major in biology, minor in chemistry, and I want to be an anesthesiologist,” she adds.

She’s speaking of her real life. But this wasn’t that reality. It was an amateur porn video, posted on a Web site called CastingCouch–X.

And her name wasn’t Stella Ann. It was Alyssa Funke. She was a native of Stillwater, Minn., and a straight-A biology student at the University of Wisconsin at River Falls.

Days after the video was posted in March, derisive messages started to flood her Twitter and Facebook accounts. According to a KMSP-TV report this week, they were mostly from Stillwater High School, which she had attended the year before.

“Wow your a thot,” wrote one, using the slang for prostitute. “Does her dad know?”

“Nothing brings a school together like a porn star who graduated last year,” another wrote.

Funke was defiant at first. She grew up in a tough home, and had seen trouble before. According to Arizona state prison records, her father, Rashad Bowman, was convicted in 2001 of fraudulent schemes in Maricopa County Court in Arizona. His ongoing incarceration split up the family, and court records describe how she and her father tried to communicate with one another with audio tapes. Since then, Funke has struggled with money and depression, KMSP-TV reports.

“The people that envy & hate you the most, stalk you on social media the most,” she wrote on Facebook after her porn video was posted.


Screengrab showing Alyssa Funke’s Facebook page.

But on Twitter, she affected a different tone. Her tweets vacillated between teen vulnerability — “Clingy, attached, and horny is what describes me i think” — and outright anger. “It’s called Karma and it’s pronounced “haha, f— you!”

On April 14, she tweeted: “Pornstar status.” And: “FAMOUS for dayzzzzzzz.” According to her family, however, her classmates’ taunts wounded her deeply. Later in April, two days after her final tweet, she got ahold of a shotgun and killed herself on her family’s boat, according to KMSP-TV. 

Details are sparse. Her family did not return phone calls from The Washington Post. But at 2 p.m. that day, the University of Wisconsin called her hometown police department to request help checking on the teenager. At 2:30 p.m., the Pioneer Press reports, county deputies found her not far from Big Carnelian Lake near May Township, a small town of about 3,000 outside Minneapolis.

Weeks later, her family, who declined to be interviewed on camera, told KMSP-TV they suspected the taunts had played a significant role in Funke’s suicide. They launched “The Alyssa Stop Bullying Fund,” which, sadly, only raised $165. They offered this description of the fund:

On Wednesday April 16,  at the young age of 19 Alyssa Funke took her own life. Alyssa like so many other teens was a victim of bully and sadly the bullying lead to her death. Social media has revolutionized the way people bully each other now days.  Now you can say whatever you want and not have to look the person in the face while doing it.  This needs to stop! Bullying has cost thousands of young lives every year and we need to do something about it!

Professionals, psychiatrists and psychologists, often point out that suicide is rarely the result of a single event but rather an accumulation of troubles. But students at River Falls likewise believe the messages sent to Funke contributed to her suicide. “A lot of people are really negative — troll-y — about it or standing up and saying it shouldn’t happen to people,” one friend told KMSP-TV. “Sad it’s still happening, actually.”

Funke’s video, according to KMSP-TV, has not been removed from Casting Couch’s Web site, and the company didn’t return its requests for comment. The local sheriff’s office doesn’t think the messages sent to Funke constitute criminal harassment, and the investigation is ongoing.

KMSP-TV

Terrence McCoy writes on foreign affairs for The Washington Post's Morning Mix. Follow him on Twitter here.
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Terrence McCoy · May 22, 2014