Two girls arrested after one allegedly brags on Facebook about cyber bullying suicide victim

Filed Under: Facebook, Featured, Law & order

Rebecca SedwickRebecca Ann Sedwick, a 12-year-old Florida girl, leapt to her death from an abandoned cement factory silo on 10 September.

That did not stop the bullies.

One month after her suicide, the offline and online bullying that tormented Rebecca for over a year was still a sickening miasma thriving in venues such as Facebook.

And now, two girls - ages 12 and 14 - have been arrested and charged in connection with the bullying, after the 14-year-old allegedly bragged on Facebook about her part in Rebecca's death, signing the post with a little red heart.

The bullying was reportedly started over a boyfriend.

According to the New York Times, the sheriff's office of Polk County, in the US state of Florida, which has been investigating the suicide, was alerted to the Facebook post over the weekend.

The poster said that she knows, and does not care, that her bullying led to Sedwick's suicide.

The post, in internet shorthand:

Yes ik [I know] I bullied Rebecca nd she killed her self but IDGAF

Polk County deputies had been investigating around 12 girls for allegedly harassing Rebecca by calling her ugly and worthless, telling her that she deserved to die, and urging her to drink bleach, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

On Monday, police arrested the alleged author of the post along with another 12-year-old girl.

In a news conference on Tuesday, Polk Sheriff Grady Judd said that the poster of the hateful comment did not get the enormity of this tragedy.

An excerpt from Sheriff Judd's remarks, which can also be heard in this myFox Tampa Bay video clip:

'Yes, I bullied Rebecca, and she killed herself, but I don't give a …' You tell me there's not major league problems here? You tell me there's not parents who, instead of taking that device and smashing it into a thousand pieces in front of her child, she says, 'Oh, her account was hacked?' We see where the problem is.

Sheriff Judd said that the detectives hadn't anticipated making arrests so quickly, but that they were goaded by the online remark, the NYT reports:

We learned this over the weekend, and we decided that, look, we can’t leave [the older girl] out there. Who else is she going to torment? Who else is she going to harass? Who is the next person she verbally abuses and attacks?

The girls, neither of whom had a prior arrested record, were charged with the third-degree felony charge of aggravated stalking.

The older girl was taken into custody in the juvenile wing of the county jail. Police said the younger girl expressed remorse and therefore was released to her parents under house arrest.

I can appreciate Sheriff Judge's anger, amazement and frustration as he and his deputies, and, of course, Rebecca's family, have been faced with this horrible situation, which has continued to spread ripples even beyond her death.

Smashing devices in front of children may sound like a decisive and satisfying way to stop the hateful environment that can engulf a cyber bullying victim.

But it won't stop the harassment, whether you smash the victim's smartphone or you take a hammer to the bully's laptop.

In fact, Rebecca's mother told news outlets that she didn't take away her daughter's smartphone because of the fear of alienating her in this way.

As for the bullies, they'll find a way, device or no device, virtually or in the real world. As Rebecca's story points out, the abuse spills out in both arenas.

There are many other resources out there to help fight cyber bullying, short of pulverizing kids' phones.

As Sophos's John Shier pointed out recently, it's up to all of us to give children the tools they need to both be good online citizens - see Wheaton's Law, if all else fails - and to recognize, and report, harmful behaviour.

In the wake of other cyber bullying-related suicides, including that of Amanda Todd, Rehtaeh Parsons and Audrie Pott, their grieving families, concerned legislators and cyber security groups have been working to give parents, caregivers, teens and children those tools and to build awareness around the effects of cyber bullying.

Some of the resources parents, as well as others who have the power to influence children, can turn to:

  • National Cyber Security Alliance's Stay Safe Online campaign provides a comprehensive set of resources for our own personal online safety and for teaching others to be safer online.
  • Sophos's Top 10 tips to keep kids and teens safe online.
  • A provincial program named ERASE, rolled out by British Columbia after Amanda's death, which out addresses bullying and harmful behaviour in schools and provides children and parents with an online resource for discussing and reporting cyber bullying.

Please feel free to share resources and your own tips for keeping teens and children safe in the comments below.

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44 Responses to Two girls arrested after one allegedly brags on Facebook about cyber bullying suicide victim

  1. Really, you gotta wonder why parents give their children smartphones and don't monitor their activity. Why does a 12 year old need a smartphone?
    At the most, she needs a phone that can make and receive calls. That's it.

    My condolences to this family. No one should have to bear this!

    • "In fact, Rebecca's mother told news outlets that she didn't take away her daughter's smartphone because of the fear of alienating her in this way."

      That is some bad parenting right there.

  2. Freida Gray · 316 days ago

    My 1st question was why didn't the police arrest the 14 year old before the suicide? Then my 2nd question became didn't anyone report this before the suicide?
    I'm pretty sure the prior posts would have been enough to arrest the girl on stalking/harassing charges before Rebecca killed herself if they had been brought to the attention of the police.

    • beth624 · 315 days ago

      Not 100% sure, but I think that beforehand it would have been a misdemeanor (not a felony) and not an offense that the bully would be arrested for.

    • Emir · 315 days ago

      Because police rarely do anything before something drastic happens.

      • Sam · 315 days ago

        As tragic as this case is, hopefully it will not result in preventative arrests, which, in the US are prohibited by the terms of the Fourth Amendment.

        Indeed, leaving it to the police to decide whether or not a person's words or actions warrant preventative incarceration is an invitation to a police state, as evidenced by the police powers in many regimes, past and present.

        • You're way off track. Where did you get this idea about 'preventative incarceration'? Harassment is a crime whether the victim commits suicide or not, and if a person is to be incarcerated it's the courts that decide that, not police.

  3. Nancy Slack Bell · 316 days ago

    What's wrong with just a good old butt-busting on the one who is bullying? Or grounding. Or taking away the computer. Or taking away the phone. Stopping bullying starts when children are young - if they are not bullied at home by Mom & Dad, it's unlikely they will bully as they get older. Know your kids, spend time with them. AND NEVER NEVER say "My child will never do such & such". That will come back to bite you in the behind big time...............

    • "What's wrong with just a good old butt-busting on the one who is bullying?"

      Yes, because nothing says "don't harm those weaker and less powerful than you" like harming someone weaker and less powerful than you.

      Stopping bullying matters, but we can't bully kids into not bullying. It won't work. To the extent that empathy i teachable, we have to teach empathy, and we teach empathy by modeling empathy.

      The other thing we have to teach, and I say this as someone who was bullied as a child, is how to survive bullying. If you're being physically bullied, you need get parents, teachers, and police involved right away. No on should ever tolerate being hit, pushed, or otherwise physically harmed. If it's verbal or online bullying, in addition to these, we need to teach children that their value is never, ever determined by what others say to or about them. Ever.

      • Stace · 315 days ago

        I'm sorry but discipline is part of teaching. Just like with a toddler who's reaching for things on the living room table such as a remote or knickknack or someone's drink, you teach them by saying no but if the "no" doesn't work after a time or two, lightly smacking fingers is the way to go. So you teach not to touch but sometimes you have to enforce the rule. And with wee ones like that, usually the shock of the smack on the fingers or diaper is enough to change the behavior after a couple times. Of older kids who understand what no means and the why's of it, smacking a butt may not help so much, so discipline such as groundings and/or taking away of favorite things for a period of time may be more appropriate. We all are taught it's bad to kill, but when someone does, justice is supposed to enforce the rule (punishment). And since little miss thing and her ilk think what they did is ok, they definitely need some discipline. They're old enough to know what they did was wrong; by 4/5/6 you should have a pretty good idea on right and wrong. If not, well I could say a lot of unpleasantness about lazy parents or kids who just aren't bright enough to get it, but I won't go there

  4. Ann J · 316 days ago

    Well we take cars away from drunk drivers, but you are worried that smashing a girls phone is excessive, when she used it to harass a child to death?

    • Why on earth would you want to smash it? As far as I'm concerned the deliberate destruction of valuable property is morally abhorrent. Far better to sell it, or give it away, so that its value is maintained.

      • Stace · 315 days ago

        lol Really breaking a phone is morally abhorrent, but it's ok to help harass a girl till she kills herself? *Please note the heavy sarcasm.

        It's a phone, a thing, it only has value because you think it does; material things like a freakin phone can be replaced. Some things are much more valuable, such as that girl whose life is gone, whose parents and loved ones now will mourn for the rest of their lives, but smashing the little brat's (being nice here) phone is morally abhorrent? Gimme a break

  5. Ms Vaas - I believe the sheriff was saying that the bully's phone should have been smashed after her parents said her account was hacked, resulting in the abhorrent post.

    • Lisa Vaas · 316 days ago

      Thanks, arphaus. You're right, I misinterpreted what he was saying.

  6. Andy · 316 days ago

    This is so sad, no wonder the spy agencies are spying on all of us , things like this just cannot be allowed to continue. May be I should reconsider my own stance on spying by our security agencies and be thankful that they are there and be in the hope that they too take responsibility in protecting my privacy.

    Can I really trust them to be honest and reliable in my defense, with all that has been leaked out who really knows.

  7. Confused Non Parent · 316 days ago

    I'm not a parent so possibly don't understand (but was bullied at school before the e-revolution):

    "it's up to all of us to give children the tools they need to both be good online citizens"
    Why does that include giving them smart-phones? Apart from the expense of purchase and of any "plan", they seem to be an open door to bullying. If you want your child to have a means of contacting you in an emergency what is wrong with a "dumb phone"? On-line access can be via a secured computer at home - rather than beneath the desktop during double-French!

    Parents have to learn to resist the sort of pressure like: "Simon's got one why can't I have one". (In my day it was "Simon's got a calculator" - which dates me!). But parents used to resist this sort of pressure - why can't they now?

    • Why can't I give my child a smart phone? Because other children don't have one too? That's ridiculous. I work hard for a living, and providing my family with little luxuries is a well-earned pleasure for me. I gave my daughter her first cell phone at the age of 11 because I was a working mother, and she was too old for a babysitter. She also had her first computer at the age of 5 because she had learned to read by that age, and the educational programs were fabulous for her. Don't blame bad parenting on them possessing current technology. Having a cellphone or computer at that age didn't make my daughter an awful person. She is now 23, is responsible, has a decent job, and works hard. That's because I took responsibility as a parent, and encouraged her to be a decent person with a conscience growing up.

  8. Linda · 316 days ago

    Parents really must take full responsibility for their children. It is unacceptable to just let them freely bully, or worse, other people. Parents are responsible for teaching children about life, its dangers, good manners, acceptable behaviour and nurture them to become responsible adults eventually. It's not just up to schools, parents are the ones responsible and the sooner modern parents realise that the better their children will behave among themselves, their peers and the public in general.
    Children that age only need a mobile phone for safety, they do not need a smart phone.

  9. Dennis M · 316 days ago

    The two girls that caused Rebecca Ann Sedwick to commit suidice are obviosly messed up in the head beyond belief. They are most likely so messed up that smashing telephones will probably not do much good. My prayer is that God would reveal to these two girls the heinous level of what it is they have done so they can get their lives straightened out. If they do not come to this realization then their lives will be nothing but one train wreck after another.

  10. Gavin · 316 days ago

    For better or for worse, social networks and online communication are the all-pervasive reality of today's world that children are growing up in. To suggest that a kid doesn't need that is, in my humble opinion, an oversimplification.

    I have a child of a similar age to those girls described in this article, and what works for her is for my wife and I to have an active interest in who she's communicating with online. Who are her online friends? Are they really friends? Do we know them "in real life" too? If not we'll ask a few general non-threatening questions. And of course communication stops after bedtime.

    But the saddest part of these stories is that it's so easy to give advice after such a tragic event. If I was the parent of a cyberbullied child that took his/her own life I'd probably spend the rest of my days blaming myself for what I didn't do. I couldn't imagine it. All we can do is try to protect ourselves and each other through awareness; but the blame lies 100% -- and will always lie 100% -- with the bullies themselves.

    Deepest condolensces to the Sedwicks and all other families dealing with these terrible issues.

  11. Lisa Vaas · 316 days ago

    think I misinterpreted the sheriff's remarks about smashing kids' devices. I thought he was talking about smashing victims' devices, but looks like he meant bullies' devices.

    No wonder you all thought I was bonkers.

    Smashing devices still strikes me as violent, though. It evades the problem of dealing with the kids' sadistic behavior.

    • Indeed, the devices are the tools they used. It's parents that don't teach their kids not to bully, or even teach them it's okay to bully, that are the problem. I went to school in the 1960s and 1970s. There was no "online" to bully on, yet the bullies still managed to bully me. Smartphones and the internet are NOT the problem. Anyone who thinks they are has missed the point. If you take away, smash, or even don't give them in the first place, these smartphones, they'll still be bullies. .

    • Quite right. Teaching children that destruction of property is an appropriate response under any circumstances is despicable.

      That said, I don't entirely disagree with the sheriff's comments, because on a different reading he might not necessarily have meant that smashing the device was a good idea in and of itself, but rather that it would be a more appropriate response than making up an excuse about the account having been hacked. That, I would agree with.

      Still, neither option is exactly attractive.

  12. Jackie McBride · 316 days ago

    I think the point is that the parents are blaming a hacked account. Obviously, that issue needs to be investigated. My fb account was hacked in 2010, w/the result that 1 of my students was told, purportedly by me, to assume a likely very impossible sexual position from an anatomical viewpoint. Interestingly enough, it was that student who actually alerted my partner instructor that he thought I'd been hacked, because he knew I'd never say such a thing. If the account wasn't compromised, of course, then the parents should get arrested to for not demanding their child be a responsible citizen.

    I'd also posit that bullying, in & of itself, was likely insufficient to result in a suicide, that this poor child had other mental health issues, & that she needed assistance desperately. Having myself lost a daughter, I know how painful this is, & my heart goes out to these parents, but I can't condone their saying that their daughter's account was compromised, if in fact it wasn't.

    • Friending your students on Facebook while they're still children strikes me as the height of irresponsibility. If it were my child I'd be requesting the school district take action to stop it.

      • Not being someone's Facebook friend isn't a barrier to communicating with them; anyone can send a message.

  13. Sanji · 316 days ago

    Why does a 12 year old need a smartphone you ask? Because if they don't have the same nonsense that all the other 12 year olds have, they will be BULLIED and HARASSED because they "don't fit in". The culture of our society, heavily supported by parents who don't know how to say no to their little darlings, has created little psychopaths that think they are entitled to whatever they want simply because they're just so special. I know a person who's daughter was given everything she ever wanted (including her own apartment) and now she's in rehab at 19 because she doesn't understand why she has to work for a living if her parents are rich. Of course, the parents were shocked that their child felt this way... the rest of us were not.

    Moms and dads out there...think of what you're teaching your children when you brush off their bad behavior or reward their lack of compassion with newer iPhones and iPads. You're helping to create the problem. Those same kids that you have made excuses for will throw you into an old folks home faster than you can say "what did I do to deserve this?"

    • It's not providing our children with these devices that is to blame.... PARENTS provide the moral compass not the device.

  14. Bear · 316 days ago

    “Parents are not to be put to death for crimes committed by their children, and children are not to be put to death for crimes committed by their parents; people are to be put to death only for a crime they themselves have committed. This is from the book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament. It seems to me to have the answer to this problem of a girl who has no thoughts or remorse about someones death at her hands...when this was written, there was a realization that the person/child will not change or get "better". Still holds true today...By the way the verse is 24:16.

  15. JRD · 316 days ago

    I know how easily someone can be "bullied" on line. It's safer for the bully than bullying face to face. It reaches a larger audience for humiliation. You can use the victims own social network to doxx them and harass them everywhere they can possibly think to hide.

    It's horrific. It's inhuman.

    But is it illegal?

    There is a visceral reaction that adults have to a child being bullied to death. We want to avenge that death, prevent it from happening to anyone else. We lash out and maybe react irrationally.

    My first thought was to shoot the bullies to death via firing squad. But I realize that is wrong and not productive.

    After my immediate outrage, I have to ask: where was law enforcement while the bullying was going on? Why did Rebecca have to die *and* someone have to brag about it before anything was done? Was she telling adults about the bullying and they told her to buck up or get tough or "grow a pair" and get over it? Did nobody take is seriously even after she killed herself? Why did it take someone bragging about it online before any action was taken? Why did they arrest two other young women based on weird retroactive stalking charges all of the sudden? Why not arrest them when they were actually, you know, stalking the victim?

    What we really need is an environment where someone is bullied, they are believed and taken seriously and there can be meaningful action. I don't know what that meaningful action is. I don't know what to do that won't make things worse.

    All I know whatever we have in place right now isn't keeping our kids safe or giving them the protection and support they need.

    • jane · 316 days ago

      they probably weren't charged til afterwards because their identity was unknown. There are many ways to harass online or by text message and remaining anon. and it took someone to identify them self as the bully for authorities to act on it and then that bully gave a name probably under some deal for them to catch the other one.

    • You cannot be "bullied to death" online. There is responsibility on both sides here. Suicide is still a choice this girl made.

      One thing that can make a difference is teaching kids how to deal with being bullied with words. I was bullied a lot as a child. But I learned at a young age that words only had as much power as I gave them. I don't give them much power.

      • "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me."

        Was I was a child this is what we were taught.

  16. Wow... Get a grip on your kid's behavior, parents!!! YOU ARE SUPPOSED TO BE PARENTS, NOT BUDDIES to your kid. Teach them RIGHT from WRONG... IT'S YOUR JOB!!! If you suspect your child of bullying, talk to their teachers, put their devices on Net Nanny, and tell them you are giving the password over to the police to monitor, and DO IT!!! This HAS to be stopped at the PARENT'S level before it becomes tragic. Chances are you don't HAVE to worry about alienating your little monsters... they are probably already alienated if you are turning a blind eye to this kind of behavior.

  17. Nick Smith · 316 days ago

    Try them as adults. That will open eyes on all sides.

  18. Children may not need smartphones but we have to accept that that's how the world is today, and as the article says, 'give them the tools' to make responsible, informed choices and behave appropriately.

    We don't want our kids to go out and have teenage sex, but we give them sex education so if they do, at least they'll be aware of the risks and hopefully keep safe. Use of smartphones, and indeed all technology, is no different; accept that you cannot always control your children, but also accept the responsibility you have, to make sure they have, the tools to make the right choices.

  19. Morgan · 316 days ago

    Back in the day (like ten years ago...) I had a pager. If my parents REALLY needed to reach me they would page me and I would have to find a phone and call them back. My first phone? Simple cricket phone that I bought myself when I was 18 my freshman year of college.

    I have three children and it's stories exactly like this that makes me not want to get them a phone until they are 18 and will make sure they have limited social media accounts (if any at all at this rate). And you better believe I catch my kids pulling crap like this and bullying kids they will be lucky to have a social life until they can realize the value of others. All I can really hope is that if they are being bullied that they will come talk to me about it, like my 7 year old son did last school year, so that I can help them before it goes too far.

  20. I'm sorry, I don't believe it's all such a clear cut case of good guys and bad guys. I don't believe that a an otherwise happy, stable child within a strong family will resort to actually committing suicide because of bullying. And however bad bullying can be, I'm not saying it isn't, 'kids' don't say 'go and drink bleach' to each other and incite to kill each other actually meaning it and out of the blue. Usually reactions like that are prompted by someone acting out, creating drama, being suicidal in the first place, which can scare other kids into a distancing cruelty. It's all very easy to blame to peers and on their bullying instead of having to look at what was really wrong in this girls life. And the IDGAF post is a pose, a way, again of dealing with her own fright. This is a girl who is defensive after being blamed solely for what she knows is a bigger story, which has already become taboo. This is a girl being tough in the face of her own feelings of guilt, which may not even be wholly justified.

  21. ceedee · 316 days ago

    more than suggested things needs to be changed...the law in itself protects kids from responsible parenting by shorting the leash to do there jobs....Don't blame the means, blame the weak giver...As said stop being friends with your young ones and be parents that children hate only to grow to love you and understand why you did the things you did...your children, you and society will appreciate the future.

  22. Bob · 315 days ago

    Holy _blank!_
    Seriously? People pick on the NRA but here you are, a tech writer protecting technology in the wake of a death.
    I don't know the dude that said mom & dad should have smashed the phone but I think the point was they should have showed outrage or at least confiscated the device at some point.
    I applaud the police for expressing outrage instead reciting the all too typical line, "The alleged suspect has been taken into custody until and we will go where the facts take us."

  23. Denise · 315 days ago

    I like how the sheriff is approaching this. Everyone needs to be concerned and alert to the nuances of this problem for the sake of kids everywhere. I grew up with bullies in our neighborhoods and schools, but before the current technology that almost every child now has access to, many children still had "safe" places (like home) where abusers couldn't reach us. At least, it felt that way. My brother had a severe speech impediment and physical problems that resulted in speech and physical therapy all through childhood and high school, and made him the target not just of other children and teens, but of ignorant and mean-spirited adults. The shameful behavior of others and the exclusions he struggled with were sad and ugly. Our family was protective and supportive of him and as his eldest sister, I took his struggles to heart. Thankfully, he survived and has had a rewarding and happy adult life and a family of his own complete with a wife who has been his friend since they were in grade school. Career-wise, he is happy and respected in his field. But every generation has its issues. We have young people in our extended family with special needs. And two LGBT young adults. So the concern about bullying of any kind continues. Whether a child is liked or disliked for whatever reason, or a child struggles with a handicap, or a child is viewed as "different" than the primary peer group, bullying of any kind is wrong. We all have to take an active part in the change. There are anti-bullying programs that I think can help. But they aren't everywhere. I live in a small rural town. I like the "Bulls Against Bullying" and "Cowboy Parenting" Bully Free sections from the She Wolf Medicine storefront on Zazzle. (There's a She Wolf Medicine dot com website, too, and she has a couple of samples shown.) The woman behind She Wolf Medicine is a longtime social worker with experience helping adult and child victims of abuse and trauma. Maybe something there can be helpful to a bullied adult or child or as a preventative reminder for others. I bought a few of the cards and keep them on hand for appropriate occasions.

  24. A sociopath in the making...

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.