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Throughout my bullying series, I cover key issues and profile young people who have committed suicide due to bullying (commonly called bullycide). Click here to read my series from the beginning.

The suicide of Phoebe Prince is anything but simple. There are conflicting reports about the factors that drove this 15-year old to take her life in January 2010. This case is notable in that six (6) high school students have been charged with a host of crimes related to Phoebe’s death. In recent weeks, there have been questions about whether the lead prosecutor went too far in handing out legal charges. What is undisputed is that Phoebe was taunted for months prior to her death. This case demonstrates that bullying is not just about gay teens; it’s about all teens. It’s about safety…    

Remembering Phoebe

 

Fifteen (15) year old Phoebe Nora Mary Prince had recently relocated to South Hadley, Massachusetts. She and her mother chose South Hadley to be near relatives following the separation of Phoebe’s parents. Her father remained in her native Ireland. At first, Phoebe was quite popular. Soon, however, she was being teased and taunted by other students at South Hadley High School. Much of this conflict seems to have centered around her dating older high school boys, which angered their former girlfriends. Before it was over, Phoebe was being harassed by numerous girls – and some of the young men she had dated.

As is typical, there are many who claim the school was warned and failed to act. In this case, the police involved in charging the accused perpetrators have stated that South Hadley school officials knew what was going on and failed to respond. Phoebe was absorbing increasing levels of bullying on a daily basis.

After months of bullying, Phoebe lost hope. As she walked home from school on January 14, 2010, one student threw an empty soda can at her from a passing car and yelled an insult. Phoebe made final contact with a friend on Facebook saying, “I can’t do it anymore.” She walked home, tied a favorite scarf she received as a Christmas gift around her neck and hung herself from the second floor staircase. Her dead body was discovered by her 12-year old sister.

Phoebe had been called “whore” and “Irish slut” repeatedly. Others reportedly yelled “beat Phoebe up.” Evidence suggests that some of the bullies even posted taunts on the Facebook memorial page set up after her death. This case (like the rest of them) proves that it is very easy to push a hurting person over the edge. At the beginning of this series, I suggested that any of us can play the role of bully. Here, I want to note that none of us are immune to the pain of being ruthlessly and relentlessly teased. If you put others down or call them names, you are investing in their future suicide. Do you really want to take that chance?

Today, six young people who did not realize they were “taking a chance” stand on the other side of the law facing potential multi-year prison sentences. Even if they do not serve a day, their lives are ruined. One male student has lost a college football scholarship. All were expelled from school. One student is now forced to pursue a GED because there are no other public schools in the rural area of South Hadley. Others are being labeled murderers. Their families are being overwhelmed by insults, threats and media swarming their homes. No one wins. For the bully and the victim alike, lives are destroyed.

Back in Ireland, Phoebe’s father is mourning. “It is the great tragedy of my life that I was not there,” he says. In his grief, however, he has a strikingly Christ-like view of the students who bullied his daughter:  “I’d dearly like to see admission and contrition, so that I could forgive. If they confessed to the court and said they were sorry, I’d appeal to the court for total leniency. You can go two ways. You can look to the court for revenge or you can look for leniency. The latter path is mine.”

Resources

(1) Sign the Phoebe Nora Mary Prince Facebook memorial pages (here and here).
(2) Read the recent (and extensive) series of Newsweek articles about this case.
(3) Find help at Newsweek’s “Bullying: Where To Go For Help.”
(4) Learn to curb bullying in Charles Williams’ article (Philadelphia Daily News).
(5) Read Newsweek’s “The Nine Most Common Myths About Bullying.”

Tomorrow, I will share how my wife and I decided to handle our personal faith and our view on bullying in a pluralistic society. Next week, this series continues. If you are being bullied, I ask you to courageously tell just ONE trustworthy adult – maybe a parent, relative, teacher, pastor or neighbor. There IS help available. You are worth it! If you need further guidance, I invite you to contact me.

 

JOIN THE CONVERSATION: Have you ever “felt” suicidal? What helped you to get through this stage of life? If you were ever bullied, how did sharing this with an adult help you? Add your feedback or ideas by clicking the red comments link on the Publishing Bar below. You may elect to comment as “Anonymous” if desired. Share this article on Facebook, Twitter, Buzz or by email. You may review our doctrinal beliefs at http://bit.ly/azho1g.

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