Two Florida Students Charged In Connection With A Bullied 12-Year-Old's Suicide

from the and-the-problem-with-existing-laws-is-what? dept

Two alleged cyberbullies have been arrested in Florida, but not because as a result of hastily erected cyberbullying laws. Not that Lakeland could have been blamed for rushing some legislation into existence.

Twelve-year-old Rebecca Sedwick jumped off a tower at an abandoned cement plant after enduring months of bullying by 15 other teens and tweens. Another student, 14-year-old Guadalupe Shaw, posted this message on Facebook shortly after Sedwick’s suicide.

Yes ik [I know] I bullied Rebecca nd she killed her self but IDGAF [I don’t give a (expletive)].

On the strength of that post, Shaw was arrested and is facing charges for “felony aggravated stalking.” Another unnamed 12-year-old was picked up and is facing the same charge.

Officials have presumably secured previous posts from the two arrestees aimed at Sedwick that justify the felony charges. This message alone would not qualify as a felony or misdemeanor.

(2) A person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person commits the offense of stalking, a misdemeanor of the first degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082 or s. 775.083.

(3) A person who willfully, maliciously, and repeatedly follows, harasses, or cyberstalks another person and makes a credible threat to that person commits the offense of aggravated stalking, a felony of the third degree, punishable as provided in s. 775.082, s. 775.083, or s. 775.084.

The difference between the two is the existence of a “credible threat.” Messages sent to Sedwick from other students included phrases like, “You should die” and “Why don’t you go kill yourself,” including some sent by Shaw herself.

Witnesses told investigators that Shaw harassed Sedwick by calling her ugly, told her to “drink bleach and die,” and suggested that she should kill herself.

Prosecutors hoping to make these charges stick may have trouble turning suggestions into threats, but as stated earlier, there may be more posts that haven’t been made public that are actual threats. Even so, the felony charge is Class 3, one step up from a misdemeanor.

Grady Judd, the sheriff whose office performed the arrest, said Shaw brought this on herself.

“She forced this arrest,” Judd said of the 14-year-old’s alleged decision to post the message. He said investigators don’t believe her Facebook account was compromised.

Judd sent detectives to arrest her and a 12-year-old friend at their homes.

They were booked Monday, and the 12-year-old was released to her parents, Judd said.

The 14-year-old made her first court appearance Tuesday and was being kept at a juvenile detention facility.

The comment about Shaw’s account being “compromised” is a response to Shaw’s parents’ claim (and Shaw’s herself) that their child’s Facebook account was hacked.

But Shaw’s parents told ABC News Tuesday that they regularly look at their daughter’s account — and would never allow her to write anything so vile.”I would check her Facebook every time she would get on it,” said Shaw’s mom, who wasn’t identified.

“If we saw something that was not right, we would’ve addressed it and it would’ve ended right then,” her dad added.

Shaw’s attorney also said the girl denies stalking Sedwick, a former classmate at Crystal Lake Middle School in Lakeland, and isn’t responsible for the online message.

So, there’s that. The claim seems to be a bit unlikely, especially if investigators have collected posts made from the account over a lengthy time period. Even if Shaw didn’t make the post that resulted in her arrest, it’s going to be a stretch to assert that all negative posts directed at Sedwick from her account were a result of hacking. The latest post was the trigger for law enforcement, but the aggravated stalking charge relates to “repeated” actions. Even so, it’s still an obstacle prosecutors will need to surmount.

That the teens are being charged under existing law indicates the “need” for separate cyberbullying laws is overstated. Existing statutes are capable of addressing the most harmful bullying behavior. Cyberbullying laws, at least to date, have tended to replace targeting clearly criminal behavior with targeting unpleasant behavior, not all of which is bullying and very much of which is protected expression.

That the outcome of this will be unsatisfactory for those seeking justice for Sedwick’s suicide (most likely no time served for either arrestee) doesn’t prove the existing laws don’t go far enough. As tragic as Sedwick’s suicide was, and as reprehensible as the behavior was that led to it, attempting to prosecute people for someone else’s choice is a problematic area that no legislator should be willing to rush into. But so many have, applying heated emotions to a process that tends to result in many harmful unintended consequences if not dealt with rationally.

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Comments on “Two Florida Students Charged In Connection With A Bullied 12-Year-Old's Suicide”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

“Dear parents: have you ever tried turning off the TV, sitting down with your kids, and hitting them?”

Hell no, last time I spoke to them sternly and grounded them Child Protective Services showed up with the Sheriff and I was arrested for child endangerment, abuse and neglect.

Apparently banning them from facebook is considered unlawful imprisonment, saying “You will be grounded longer if you do not follow the rules” is threatening and allowing them to eat anything except the government approved diet is neglect. I learned my lesson and will never do anything to upset my child again, I do not want another run in with Child Protection Services.

JC (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:Anonymous Coward

Yes. Yes, you are a coward. Children learn what they live and you are most likely going to end up raising a sociopathic child who will bring you much misery. Get a backbone. I had my ass beat quite regularly as a child when I screwed up and I am grateful for that. With no discipline I would either be in prison or dead by now. I’ve always told my children (both grown and married) that pain is instructive in its many forms (doesn’t have to be physical). I don’t know how old your child is, but apparently you are not the one in charge.

Jay (profile) says:

Personal responsibility?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the one that made the decision to jump, the one that’s dead?

How is the blame thrown to these two students for saying mean things to suicide victim?

Have we truly lost our collective minds over someone being bullied to try to push kids into felony charges when a suicide happens?

This is horrendous on a number of levels…

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Personal responsibility?

Its not the suicide VICTIMs fault that they died, those bullies are to blame.
Its not the bullies fault that they are bullies, their parents allowed them to act that way.
Its not the parents fault they let their kids act like bullies, its the laws that allow parents to get harassed for disciplining their children.
Its not the legislatures fault that the laws suck, they only did it for the children.

This is what happens when you remove personal responsibility.
Its not my fault I posted this, I am addicted to the WWW, blame Tim Burners-Lee.

Jeremy Lyman (profile) says:

Re: Personal responsibility?

This also makes me worry about legitimizing suicide as a recourse against bullying. For kids that feel so powerless and helpless, the prospect of getting back at their tormentors could overshadow better options. Teenagers make terrible decisions every day (case in point) lets not put this prescient out there to further cloud rational judgement.

kenichi tanaka (profile) says:

These teens should be charged with murder or manslaughter because their actions brought about the death of another person. Not only that, but the parents of these teens should also be charged because they are responsible for the conduct of their own children.

This is the result of a lack of parental supervision and they should have been aware of what their children were doing. Do their parents NOT monitor their internet activity?

The common strategy when one gets arrested is always to blame someone for hacking their Facebook or twitter account. Please. That defense never flies because every website tracks your login process whenever you log into your account. I have a website that I’ve been running for 10 years and whenever a registered member logs into their account, their login process is recorded along with their IP address.

S. T. Stone says:

Re: Re:

These teens should be charged with murder or manslaughter because their actions brought about the death of another person.

As someone who can both count himself as a ?bullying survivor? and say ?I contemplated suicide as a ?way out??: I call bullshit.

I don?t condone what those teenagers did. I can barely understand it. But I refuse to condemn them outright as ?murderers?.

Their actions, while despicable, may or may not have played a role in the 12-year-old?s decision to commit suicide. We?ll never know for sure because the only person who can say for sure has died. In the absence of any direct evidence tying the two teens to that suicide (e.g. a note from the deceased pointing directly to those teens), they should not have to face felony charges for their actions.

Their arrest may serve as a brief deterrent to other students, but only so long as the story remains in the press and on the front page. Once this story sinks back to page six and everyone stops remembering how those two teens ended up in jail, other students will go back to acting no better than those two teens.

You can?t really ?deter? this sort of behavior, at least not this way. I used Futurama?s ?turn off the TV, sit down with your children, and hit them? above as a bit of dark comedy (given the situation), but the first two-thirds of that joke hold true. Parents have a moral obligation to teach their children not to act like complete assholes ? and that means having a long, uninterrupted talk about how this sort of behavior doesn?t fly in civilized society.

A murder conviction for these two teens won?t ?cure the disease?; it?ll merely cut off a ?symptom?. Continuing dialogue and education from parents and other peers will help curb the disease.

?So have you ever tried turning off the TV, sitting down with your children, and actually talking to them??

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

?the parents of these teens should also be charged because they are responsible for the conduct of their own children.

People should never beheld liable for other people’s actions like that, not even parents, even tho it their job to teach their children the difference right and wrong as they can’t be with their children every moment of there lives.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Indeed. However, given that charges have been brought, and from the information so far*, then not only should the teen be charged, but the parents should be charged as an accessory because of the information that we have. That’s the reason that accessory charges, along with aiding and abetting charges, exist.

Because if those parents are irresponsible enough to not see that their daughter was a contributing factor to the suicide, then they perhaps should take a long, hard look at themselves.

*That the parents had full access to their daughter’s Facebook account.

ChrisB (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Are you kidding? Charge a 12-year-old with murder? For teasing someone? Have you lost your mind?

There is a reason we don’t treat kids like adults. They are severely lacking in judgement and morals. You know, the things parents are supposed to teach them. Locking them will not deter them or others from the behaviour, and will likely only mess up their lives.

Kids need to develop coping skill to deal with bullies. The simplest is to have a lot of friends. Criminalizing teasing is not going to help this situation at all. You can’t judge the severity of the bullying based on an outcome. Some kids are already dealing with problems, so might be quicker to choose suicide than others.

Chronno S. Trigger (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“Not only that, but the parents of these teens should also be charged because they are responsible for the conduct of their own children.”

Yeah, and the law makers should be charged as well because they are responsible for the laws that force parents to not discipline their children. And the voters should be charged for not voting the murderers out of office before they could pass those laws. And we should charge those voters parents for not properly teaching their children to pay attention to politics. All of them, they’re all equally responsible for this one child taking her own life.

Yes I know, an AC above already pointed that out, but it seems to need saying again. These kids are not responsible for a suicide. Harassment – maybe, stalking – probably not, murder – hell no.

Pragmatic says:

Re: Re: Re:

I hope you realize the ‘logic’ you’re using to justify charging them with murder or manslaughter is the same ‘logic’ someone uses to excuse rape by claiming the victim was ‘asking for it’ given their clothing/appearance/demeanor.

Cognitive disconnect, much?

The bullies in this case aren’t victims of a furious target who wanted to get her own back by jumping off a tower. They are sick little jerks who get off on inflicting misery on a perceived weakling until she couldn’t take it any more. The pack mentality took over, and… we can all see where it led.

Do not take this to mean that I think the bullying was the only factor in the suicide, but it’s reasonable to assume they pushed an already desperate child over the edge by making mean comments that caused her to believe that no one cared about her and her misery would never end.

Gwiz (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

How about fixing incessant cyber stalking and bullying activities that drive people to want to take their lives?

How about realizing that those types of behavior have been a part of human nature since the first time more then two humans gathered in a cave. (Actually probably before, since that type of behavior also occurs in the animal kingdom).

The key is teaching children that their ego is derived from within, not from their peers and most certainly not from strangers online. While I, like most everyone else, cherishes acceptance from the group, the bottom line is that the only opinion of me that really truly matters is that of my own face in the mirror.

G Thompson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

How about making every person (and child) on the planet do a highly invasive, arduous, and specious psychological test to see if there is a slight predisposition to suicide.

If the test comes back positive then they should be locked away in a sealed and monitored facility for the rest of there unnatural lives..

That will fix suicides worldwide!!!


In the meantime if you accept the above as sarcasm then you are a normal individual, on the other hand if you don’t then maybe YOU ARE THE FUCKING PROBLEM and need to DIAF!

SolkeshNaranek says:

Hacked account

The comment about Shaw’s account being “compromised” is a response to Shaw’s parents’ claim (and Shaw’s herself) that their child’s Facebook account was hacked.

Perhaps the NSA is running an OP that hacked her account?

Of course if they are questioned regarding this, the accusation will be denied.

Based on the NSA’s record of truth telling, this will confirm the covert operation.

Of course I am just kidding… maybe.

Anonymous Coward says:

such a tragedy! as for the parents statements above, i dont believe them! they will say whatever they need to to try to exonerate their child. i certainly dont blame them for that but i doubt if they have been watching as closely as they have made out.

it certainly goes to show how the ‘little bundles of joy’ can turn out and what can happen if not reined in quick enough or sternly enough!

sympathy to the deceased’s parents

Anonymous Coward says:

As bad as their behavior was, it is still constitutionally protected. You can tell people to “please” die” or to “kill themselves” – that is called FREE SPEECH.

It could only even be considered “cyber stalking” if they were harassing her on “her” facebook page. If they didn’t it on their own pages there is no foul.

Makes you wonder if some of these prosecutors actually went to law school.

Anonymous Coward says:

This generation is fucking absurdly sensitive…. I was bullied in high school until I beat his ass half to death off the lockers breaking his arm, nose, and jaw.

Violence is the answer, and it worked pretty goddamn good for me. Needless to say I was never bullied again and oddly enough that guy is one of my best friends today. Fighting always works because-
1. Even if you get your ass kicked they’re still going to respect you after that instead of thinking you’re a pussy.

2. You kick their ass in which case they will not want to risk a repeat ass kicking embarrassment.

Bullies don’t deserve to be felons they’re just kids ffs suspend or expel them.

Adam (profile) says:

Blaming the Victim.

Reading this comment forum is making me sick, a lot of you people seem to think the victim should have just dealt with it.

“The key is teaching children that their ego is derived from within, not from their peers and most certainly not from strangers online. While I, like most everyone else, cherishes acceptance from the group, the bottom line is that the only opinion of me that really truly matters is that of my own face in the mirror.”

for example.

Having been bullied, i know for a fact that it doesn’t matter how strong you are. if you don’t react in the way they are hoping they simply elevate to actual assault or death threats.

In my experience these children do these things to make themselves feel like they are better than their victims.

Probably because they lack self esteem themselves.

There is nothing the victim can do to change it and they are often in fear of their lives.

I know i was assaulted, threatened with red hot soldering irons and threatened with death by a kid who was later found with a firearm on school grounds.

I didn’t commit suicide obviously, I quit school and never went back.

If i hadn’t i firmly believe there is every possibility i would be dead.

The problem is some children find themselves in truly horrendous situations where simply having good self esteem doesn’t mean shit, and sentiments like the above quoted simply make things worse. because they trivialize a truly nightmarish experience and offer no help whatsoever.

The problem is the bullies AND the parents that let the get to that stage. These children need to be made to take responsibility for their actions and make amends, and in the case of this story i absolutely think that they should have the book thrown at them, not as a scare tactic for others but so that they are forced to acknowledge the harm they did and maybe learn a bit of responsibility for their actions.

I know at least one of my bullies ended up as a drug dealer and in prison. Maybe if dealt with earlier he could have ended up as a responsible member of society.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Blaming the Victim.

People who commit suicide are not victims.
They are people who are mentally distressed.

If you for one second think that the bullies should be punished for their actions then you should also agree that this girls parents should be charged with child neglect for not realizing their daughter needed some help for her mental condition.

Its sad that a young lady took her own life but that’s just it she took her life.
The bullies did not take her life.
Her parents did not take her life by not getting her help.

Arrest the bullies, lock them up and throw away the keys. Now you have ruined the lives of three children not just one. What does this accomplish? Revenge? Is a vengeful society what you want?

What ever happened to “sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me?”

Stop letting your emotions overrule common sense.
Lest you might find yourself facing murder charges for giving some mentally deranged asshole the bird for cutting you off in traffic and he is so offended he later kills himself.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Blaming the Victim.

Actually, the dead girl’s parent did do alot of thing.
Get her counseling, talk to her everyday(She kept on saying nothing is wrong, till she commited suicide) and move her to a different school
But the harassment continued, and it even included physical bullying according to information released by the sherief, from interview with other students.

Niall (profile) says:

Re: Re: Blaming the Victim.

Much as I am abeliever in free speech, I would be horrified if you could just say to anyone, especially a child learning how to handle the world, “oh you can say what you like, no matter how vicious, calculated or persistent, because no-one will hold you to account for it”.

Because so much in life will NOT let them do that, and it’s hardly discouraging their viciousness.

A felony may be overreaching, but they should get slapped down hard, just like if they caused (even indirect) harm to anyone else physically.

Aidian Holder says:

Re: Blaming the Victim.

Sorry for the tough time you had.

I’m reminded of the quote from the actor Robert Morley: “Show me a man who has enjoyed his school days and I’ll show you a bully and a bore.”

That said, the idea that speech that doesn’t include a direct threat could ever be considered a crime is terrifying.

The kids in question should be cut loose immediately. In a perfect world they would also get severely beaten by the girl’s friends and family right in the juvenile hall parking lot.

Postulator (profile) says:

If I were a child today who had access to Facebook (noting its age limits), I would have two accounts as would all of my friends.

The “parents” account would contain all the “Hi Jodie, are you okay to stay over at my place Friday night?” and “Justin Bieber is such a wonderful singer” posts.

The “other” account would contain the “Jodie, don’t forget to bring your dad’s stash of weed when you come over Friday” and “I would let Justin Bieber me”.

So of course my parents will say “my child wouldn’t post something like that, the account must have been hacked”.

Oh, and as someone in his forties who still has nightmares about his school years – bullying is NOT okay. You don’t just “get over it”, and anyone who thinks it is okay has clearly never faced bullying from the victim’s perspective.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

The way bullies feel so entitled to their actions today I can’t help but wonder sometimes if bullying shouldn’t be a legally protected activity. We already have enough precedent for it – bullies are treated as victims of something, the victims themselves always pussies. Retaliation with violence has usually ended up with the victim being seen as a “problem kid”. “If you can’t beat them, join them” is an equally useless strategy because all it does is encourage the harassing behaviour. (Hey, remember how we used to call you “jackass” and kick your stomach behind the gym? Good times.) Suicide? Nowadays it looks like claiming the victim is mentally deficient or disturbed is in vogue. Online? Have you seen what 4chan and Anonymous stand for? “The pool is closed.” “For the lulz.” Bullying has been elevated to an international sport. Sucks to be you if you’re in the minority.

Note that I’m not actually seriously supporting this as an initiative. I’m just one of those embittered idiots left along the wayside when teachers and principals merely shrugged and said, “boys will be boys”.

bob says:

im sick of this crap

why are kids such melodramatic wimps these days. are the bullies little pricks? definitely, but give me a break on charging them with felonies. i mean seriously, some idiot cant deal with a couple of rude comments and kills herself? i hate to play the devils advocate here but maybe she didnt deserve to live. the last thing i want is a world run by a bunch of babies who jump off buildings when someone says something mean to them. i dont feel sorry for her at all. only the weak and cowards commit suicide and her parents are probably more to blame then these teens. this is ridiculous and im pretty sure this a encroachment on the teens constitutional right to free speech… even if it is suggesting that someone should kill themselves. i dont see people trying to arrest budweiser executives for suggesting drinking beer leads to a good time out when they get a DUI and kill someone. bunch of little babies these days and parents who fail to take responsibility for their own actions.

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