Two middle school girls arrested in cyberbullying suicide

Orlando SentinelOctober 16, 2013 

Girls Suicide Bullying

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd talks about the events leading up to the arrest over the weekend of two juvenile girls in a Florida bullying case at a press conference in Winter Haven, Fla., Monday, Oct. 15, 2013. Two middle school girls ages 14 and 12 have been arrested and charged with felony aggravated stalking in connection with the suicide earlier this year of 12-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick in Lakeland. Judd said police arrested the 14-year-old girl after she posted online Saturday that she bullied Rebecca and she didn't care. The 12-year-old girl was Rebecca's former best friend, but Judd said the 14-year-old girl turned her against Rebecca. (AP Photo/The Ledger, Calvin Knight) TAMPA TRIBUNE OUT

CALVIN KNIGHT — ASSOCIATED PRESS

For more than a year, Rebecca Ann Sedwick's bullies tormented the girl by calling her ugly and urging her drink bleach to die.

The taunting didn't stop after Rebecca's parents moved the 12-year-old Lakeland girl to a different middle school in Polk County. The bullies reached her on her smartphone.

Rebecca brought it all to an end by jumping to her death from a silo at an abandoned concrete factory on Sept. 10. But even after death, the cruelty didn't cease, family members and investigators say.

"Yes I know I bullied Rebecca and she killed her self but IDGAF -- don't give a (expletive).

That message -- posted Saturday on Facebook by Rebecca's 14-year-old persecutor -- ended with a heart symbol, and an arrest.

On Monday, Polk County deputies charged the author of the post and another 12-year-old girl with aggravated stalking after they

identified them as Rebecca's main tormentors.

The remark goaded detectives into arresting the two girls earlier than they had anticipated.

"That post was the tipping point," said Polk Sheriff Grady Judd during a Tuesday news conference in Winter Haven. "She forced this arrest."

The 14-year-old instigated the bullying after she started dating Rebecca's ex-boyfriend, Judd said.

The 12-year-old girl was once Rebecca's friend, but the 14-year-old girl turned her against Rebecca.

The girls "repeatedly and maliciously" harassed Rebecca while all three attended Crystal Lake Middle School in Lakeland, investigators said.

"Several students corroborated stories of both girls bullying Sedwick on different occasions, through name-calling, intimidation, threats to beat her up, and at least one actual physical fight," a Sheriff's Office report said.

Judd said neither family cooperated with investigators, so the girls were placed under arrest Monday, charged with the third-degree felony, detained for a few hours and released to their parents.

After their arrests, Judd said, the girls admitted to the abuse. They remain on house arrest and the Orlando Sentinel is not naming them because of their ages.

Under Florida law, a range of options are available to punish juveniles convicted of felony aggravated stalking.

"Five years of probation would be the realistic sentence," said Orlando criminal-defense attorney Richard Hornsby, who is not connected to the case. "I think it would be unlikely that they would be sent to the Department of Juvenile Justice."

Brian Haas, spokesman State Attorney's Office for the judicial circuit that includes Polk County, would not talk about the case specifically.

However, he did say the charge carries a maximum penalty of juvenile probation or placement in a residential-commitment program for five years or until the 19th birthday -- whichever comes first.

Judges have a variety of options for sentencing, including counseling and rehabilitation.

According to investigators, the 14-year-old had several arguments with Rebecca via Facebook, as well as verbal confrontations with her at school.

Witnesses said that the girl sent messages to Rebecca, calling her ugly, telling her to drink bleach and die, and saying Rebecca should kill herself.

Rebecca was jumped in school and later bombarded with such hateful messages via a cellphone application as "You're ugly," "Why are you still alive?" and "Go kill yourself."

In February, the 12-year-old was suspended from school after allegedly attacking Rebecca physically, Judd said.

Rebecca's mother decided to homeschool her and eventually Rebecca transferred to Lawton Chiles Middle Academy, but detectives found evidence that the bullying continued on her cellphone.

The morning Rebecca took her life, she posted a message to a North Carolina boy whom she reportedly met once at the airport: "I'm jumping and I can't take it anymore," the text read.

The boy did not tell anyone his friend was suicidal.

Judd said bullies must be held accountable, especially in today's instant-message, social-media environment.

"As I child I can remember my mother telling me 'sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt you,'" Judd said. "Today, words stick, because they're printed. And words are as hurtful -- and sometimes more hurtful -- as sticks and stones.

"Ask Rebecca's family."

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