Culture

12-year-old cyber-bully victim commits suicide

Girls terrorized her online, posted hate message; local sheriff says charges may be filed under cyber-bullying laws.

Scott Olson/Getty Images

A 12-year-old Florida girl has committed suicide after she was allegedly bullied online by more than a dozen other girls, and a sheriff said Thursday that he is investigating whether he can file charges under a new state law that deals with cyber-bullying. The case follows several suicides by teens who were bullied through anonymous trolling on social media websites.

Sheriff Grady Judd said that Rebecca Ann Sedwick jumped to her death on Monday at an old cement facility in Lakeland, Fla. Investigators said she had been despondent after other girls had posted hateful messages about her online.

Sedwick was "absolutely terrorized on social media," Judd said.

The Lakeland Ledger reported that detectives found multiple social media applications in which Sedwick was frequently bullied with messages including "Go kill yourself," and "Why are you still alive?"

Judd said that the parents of all 15 girls believed to have been involved in the bullying have cooperated with detectives, and that several cellphones and laptops have been confiscated. He said charges -- including cyber-stalking -- could be filed.

"If we can get any evidence of a criminal offense, the person or persons involved will be punished," he said.

Students and parents from Sedwick's school said bullying is a problem, local news reported.

Other students complained that reporting bullying earns them the title of “snitch” among fellow students, and that school authorities have ignored their concerns.

Warning signs

Local media also reported that Sedwick's mother had complained to school officials and had filed a bullying report with the district before her daughter's death.

Before her death, Sedwick had searched questions online related to suicide, including "How many over-the-counter drugs do you take to die?" and "How many Advil do you have to take to die?"

Judd said a 12-year-old boy in North Carolina, whom Sedwick met through social media, had known of her plan. Sedwick messaged him only hours before her death, saying she was dead and "I'm jumping, I can't take it anymore."

Judd said that detectives are trying to investigate the social media applications that Sedwick might have used, but that some of them are based in other countries.

"If you bully somebody online and it's reported to us and we can build a credible case, we will charge you," he said.

Anonymous trolling

Segwick had been active on a social media site which is based outside the United States and through which users can ask eachother questions. It has about 60 million users worldwide, many them anonymous and under 18 years old.

The site had earlier come under fire after it was linked to suicides of at least five teens who allegedly suffered harassment on it.

Critics say the fact that users can remain anonymous is one factor that leads to extreme bullying, because the users do not see their victims’ reactions.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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