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Murder By Text

A middle school girl in Florida committed suicide after intense online and social media bullying. Read on:

Rebecca was “absolutely terrorized on social media,” Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County said at a news conference this week.

Along with her grief, Rebecca’s mother, Tricia Norman, faces the frustration of wondering what else she could have done. She complained to school officials for several months about the bullying, and when little changed, she pulled Rebecca out of school. She closed down her daughter’s Facebook page and took her cellphone away. She changed her number. Rebecca was so distraught in December that she began to cut herself, so her mother had her hospitalized and got her counseling. As best she could, Ms. Norman said, she kept tabs on Rebecca’s social media footprint.

It all seemed to be working, she said. Rebecca appeared content at her new school as a seventh grader. She was gearing up to audition for chorus and was considering slipping into her cheerleading uniform once again. But unknown to her mother, Rebecca had recently signed on to new applications — ask.fm, and Kik and Voxer — which kick-started the messaging and bullying once again.

“I had never even heard of them; I did go through her phone but didn’t even know,” said Ms. Norman, 42, who works in customer service. “I had no reason to even think that anything was going on. She was laughing and joking.”

Rebecca Ann Sedwick was 12 years old. According to the AP, her tormenters were fellow middle school girls:

For nearly a year, as many as 15 girls ganged up on 12-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick and picked on her, authorities say, bombarding her with online messages such as “You should die” and “Why don’t you go kill yourself.”

That poor mother. She did everything she possibly could for that desperate child, and it wasn’t enough.

I hope every one of those 15 hateful girls find themselves publicly named and shamed so fiercely they can’t show themselves in public again. As a parent, I can’t think of anything worse than my child’s suicide, but having to live with the knowledge that my child had driven another child to suicide comes pretty close.

Honest to God, I hate middle school and high school so much. I’m sitting here thinking about this story, and my stomach is churning. I wouldn’t relive eighth, ninth, and tenth grade again for anything.

Sorry if my wish for harsh justice on those cyberbullies is too much. It probably is too much. I get emotional about this stuff, bigtime. Not long ago, someone told me about the circumstances surrounding the suicide of 17-year-old Tesa Middlebrook, who hanged herself in 2012 at a high school across the Mississippi River from my town. Excerpt from that story:

Family members and people who knew her say she was bullied to death.

“I think she did it because she was bullied,” The teen’s uncle, Michael Derson, said.

Tesa Middlebrook had a lot going for her. She had a 3.9 GPA and recently received a full ride to a four year college in Arizona. Her artistic abilities and pictures she drew are the only items her family has left to remember her talent.

“She was an outgoing kid,” Derson said. “She was full of life.”

I remember being horrified by that when it happened. This past summer, I spoke with someone who was in a position to know more details about it. My source told me Tesa was black, and her school, Pointe Coupee Central High School, is 99 percent black. Almost every kid there is on free lunch. Tesa got good grades, as you can see — and this, my source said, led her classmates to tease her relentlessly for — you know what’s coming — acting white. More:

Marlene Babin was Middlebrook’s youth pastor. She said kids teased her about everything.

“She was from Nebraska,” Babin said. “She was small in stature, very articulate when she spoke, used proper grammar and was very respectful and considerate.”

“It really had an impact on her,” Babin added. “She was saddened by it.”

They found her body hanging from the football stadium bleachers. It had been there for eight hours before anybody noticed.

UPDATE: Since I wrote this entry this morning, I have heard from two teachers on this topic. One tells me she was the victim of bullying years ago, in the same school where she teaches now, and who sees it happening again. She does her best to stay on top of it, she told me, but it is incredibly, astonishingly persistent. Another teacher says that if she could afford to leave her job, she would; she finds that environment toxic.

about the author

Rod Dreher is a senior editor at The American Conservative. He has written and edited for the New York Post, The Dallas Morning News, National Review, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, the Washington Times, and the Baton Rouge Advocate. Rod’s commentary has been published in The Wall Street Journal, Commentary, the Weekly Standard, Beliefnet, and Real Simple, among other publications, and he has appeared on NPR, ABC News, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, and the BBC. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, with his wife Julie and their three children. He has also written four books, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, Crunchy Cons, How Dante Can Save Your Life, and The Benedict Option.

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