Teen commits suicide, 9 classmates charged with felonies

by Walter Olson on March 31, 2010

“See if you can figure out how the shock and sorrow of the young girl’s death got processed into criminal charges against 9 teenagers and whether this reaction is helpful or just.” [Ann Althouse]

More: there’s not enough in the article to reach conclusions either way, says Scott Greenfield.

{ 14 comments }

1 Bob Lipton 03.31.10 at 8:12 am

Sounds fine by me. I’m going to sue my entire third grade class.

Bob

2 Yogi 03.31.10 at 9:39 am

Sure, because statutory rape is a victimless crime, right, Anne?

3 tcaptain 03.31.10 at 9:51 am

Yes, assault certainly isn’t worth wasting the court’s time….let’s not even go into the statutory rape.

While some of the charges are iffy, there is plenty of meat there and these kids (and the parents and the administrators) are some of the most reprehensible people around.

4 Dennis N 03.31.10 at 10:43 am

Yes, she may have committed statutory rape against a male classmate. It takes two to tango.

5 Yogi 03.31.10 at 12:24 pm

Umm, Dennis? Keep your perverted fantasies to yourself, please.

6 WhiteCoat 03.31.10 at 2:19 pm

This story sickens me.
If nine adults performed the same acts that the nine teenagers were accused of performing – plotting online to injure someone, repeatedly physically assaulting them in their place of business, repeatedly physically threatening them, then following them home and throwing objects at them from a car window – how would we respond?
I agree that some of the charges appear weak, but how would you want society to respond if this happened to your daughter? Or to you yourself? Walking out of your home wondering whether someone was waiting to beat you? Walking into work and wondering when someone was going to physically assault you? We give more sympathy to enemies of our country who were tortured in military prisons.
I think Ann Althouse is way off the mark. If these young adults really did perform all of these actions that lead to this poor young woman’s death, then examples should be made of them and the teachers who knew of their actions and did nothing.
Since when are gang activity, conspiracy, and RICO actions acceptable – at ANY age?

7 Mr L 03.31.10 at 3:27 pm

People don’t kill themselves because they’re being harassed, no matter how bad it is. Suicide is due to mental illness and while ‘severe taunting’ doesn’t help, it’s not remotely the cause. Prosecutions like this are more about the adults trying to escape guilt and responsibility for not properly addressing that mental illness.

McArdle’s absolutely right about the counterproductive message this sends. A lot of teen suicides include a misguided sense of ‘getting back’ at people you think have wronged you, and prosecuting ‘bullies’ (i.e. ex-boyfriends) instead of incompetent school administrators or inattentive parents literally goes out and does just that.

8 WhiteCoat 03.31.10 at 3:56 pm

Mr. L –
Ever hear of an “eggshell plaintiff”?
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eggshell_skull
You’re suggesting that the parents of the tauntee should now be held liable for her death because they didn’t “address her mental illness”?
Failure to address this issue would send an even larger counterproductive message: It’s OK to mentally abuse teenagers.
“Severe taunting” is no less acceptable when it is a boss, a gang member with a gun, or a prom queen with a cell phone.

9 gitarcarver 03.31.10 at 4:19 pm

“Severe taunting” is no less acceptable when it is a boss, a gang member with a gun, or a prom queen with a cell phone.

I don’t think the question is whether it is or is not “acceptable.” The question is whether taunting is or is not a criminal offense.

The Scott Greenfield piece is a little more balanced and understandable then the Althouse writing. However, Althouse does make a very good point – that these charges seem to be brought only because the girl committed suicide.

Was anyone looking at the guys for the statutory rape charges before she killed herself? Was anyone trying to protect her civil rights when they were allegedly being trampled upon?

No one – including the prosecutor – cared enough about this whole situation to do anything. Now that the girl is dead, people are rushing to cover their butts.

We can sit here and say that the teachers, the administration of the school and the school district all had a duty to help protect this young lady. The parents did as well. If we blame the school for the girl’s death we must also place some of that blame on the parents. As no one is willing to do that, it leads to the conclusion that this is a prosecution based on emotion. That is dangerous.

I know and understand that many will say that holding the parents responsible is wrong and making them more of a victim than they already are. I can see that point of view. However, if we say the parents have no responsibility and no culpability in this, then we must be agreeing that once a child leaves home for school, the school and the school alone is responsible for them. By extension, that means that the school now has the right to teach kids what they school wants without input or objections from parents. Conservatives have long been against that idea.

This is one of those cases that breaks your heart. You look at the picture of the young girl and wonder what she was thinking, what she was feeling, and why anyone would want to put her light under a bushel.

Rest in peace, Phoebe Prince.

10 Yogi 03.31.10 at 5:02 pm

Gitarcarver:”However, if we say the parents have no responsibility and no culpability in this, then we must be agreeing that once a child leaves home for school, the school and the school alone is responsible for them”

In fact, most schools IME say exactly this. Parents are simply not accepted as equal partners in the child’s growth, regardless of the pious sayings of most school admin. Attempts to report other children’s behaviors to the school results in, most often, exactly nothing, including any notice of what that nothing is.

11 Cavs 04.01.10 at 8:23 am

Being a teacher and Union Representative, I have the unfortunate first-hand experience in dealing with bullying situations that could have led up to the horrendous events in Mass.

In my home District, bullying is as much a problem as it is anywhere else in the country and the staff (Administration, Teachers, Support Staff, etc) has made a concerted effort to prevent, resolve, and correct (punish) bullying behaviors and bullies themselves. We have been as successful / unsuccessful as any other District. Unfortunately, our most current litigation may shed some light on why the South Hadley Schools handled (or mis-handled) this particular situation the way they did.

Making a long story as short as possible, a teacher reports and documents bullying behavior (and by default the bully) to administration for resolution. Parents are brought in to be part of the dialogue and corrective actions. The parents promptly hire a lawyer and sue the teacher, administrator and the District for harassment of their child, the accused bully. While litigation ensues the accused bully is removed from school by the parents and enrolled in a Private School. To avoid heavy and lengthy litigation costs, the District settles with the parents of the accused bully. The accused bully returns to school and the parents sue the District for the tuition costs of the Private School while the previous litigation was resolved.

Meanwhile… the accused bully is back in the hallways and you can guess what happens. This student is now enabled and has fallen back into the behaviors that started this whole situation and the staff (from top down) are at a loss as to what to do, both for this student and other bullies.

Based on conversations with colleagues throughout the country, my particular situation has played out in similar fashion and in varying degrees in their Districts as well. I am curious to find out South Hadley’s history in dealing with bullies, their parents, and their lawyers.

12 William Nuesslein 04.03.10 at 8:02 am

White Coat above may have been caught in the time compression error. The laundry list of taunts and meanness addressed in his comment occurred over an unknown period of time. Were there times when the girl got help from teachers or favors from her classmates? We don’t know because such incidences do not add to the mind set.

Saying that suicide is mental illness doesn’t help matters much. It is a phenomenon that happens at an actuarial rate.

13 Melvin H. 04.03.10 at 12:30 pm

WhiteCoat, are you saying that those charges with “civil rights violations”–seven of those, as I understand, are charged under federal law–should spend up to TEN YEARS in federal prison for bullying??
Talk about over-charging a case…..

Also, regarding the question of statutory rape: If I also understand, two of the boys were senior on the football team–which means they were 17 and/or 18 at the time; she was 14 or 15 at the time of her suicide (corrections?). Unless Mass. law is somewhat different, don’t most presecutors not charge statutory rape given the small difference in age (i.e. what is the age of consent in MA?).

14 Sandi 04.06.10 at 10:18 am

Mr L and others you are obviously stigmatizing suicide based upon past assumptions of when people commit suicide. Suicide is not always sought out because someone has a mental condition. Vitamin D deficiency, which can cause you to have serious suicidal thoughts brought about by lack of motiviation can also cause suicidal thoughts. You can look it up. Also just the things that happen in life can make you question your own worth. Some people are just mean, some people can erode your self-esteem and self-worth to the point where you question your very existence. It’s amazing that some of you blame the child who took her life, instead of the people who aided her way of thinking by showing her that her life meant nothing to them by doing what they did.

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