Phoebe Nora Mary Prince|
November 24, 1994
Bedford, England, U.K.
January 14, 2010 (aged 15)|
South Hadley, Massachusetts, U.S.
|Cause of death||Suicide by hanging|
The suicide of Phoebe Prince, on January 14, 2010, led to the criminal prosecution of six teenagers for charges including rape and harassment, as well as to the enactment of stricter anti-bullying legislation by the Massachusetts state legislature.
Prince had moved from Ireland to South Hadley, Massachusetts. Her suicide, after suffering months of bullying from school classmates, brought international attention to the problem of bullying in US schools. In March 2010, a state anti-bullying task force was set up as a result of her death. The Massachusetts legislation was signed into law on May 3, 2010.
Phoebe Nora Mary Prince was born in Bedford, England, United Kingdom on November 24, 1994, and moved to the seaside community of Fanore in County Clare, Ireland when she was two. Prince attended Villiers Secondary School, a private school in Limerick, where she reportedly suffered problems. She emigrated to the U.S. in the fall of 2009 with her American mother and four siblings. Her mother lived in Boston for a few years. The choice of South Hadley, Massachusetts was reportedly because of the presence of extended family, including an aunt, identified in news accounts as Eileen Moore. Her British father reportedly stayed in Lisdoonvarna, in County Clare. Prince was attending South Hadley High School at the time of her death at age 15, on January 14, 2010.
Bullying incidents and suicide
Having recently moved to the U.S. from Ireland, Prince had been taunted and bullied for several months by at least two separate groups of students at South Hadley High School, reportedly because of disputes with other girls over her brief relationships with a senior high school football player and a second male student. Her aunt had allegedly warned school officials in August 2009, prior to Prince's enrollment at the school, to watch after Prince, as she was "susceptible" to bullying and had been bullied in Ireland.
On January 14, 2010, after an entire day of harassment and taunting, followed by a final incident in which a student threw a can at her from a passing car as she walked home from school, Prince committed suicide by hanging herself in the stairwell leading to the second floor of the family apartment. Her body was discovered by her 12-year-old sister. After her death, many crude comments about her were posted on her Facebook memorial page, most of which were removed. Her parents chose to have Prince interred in Ireland.
A meeting held at the school to discuss the problem of bullying at the school brought parents who stated that bullying of their children had been completely ignored by the school administration. Massachusetts state lawmakers sped up efforts to pass anti-bullying legislation as a result of this incident, and the measure was signed into law on May 3, 2010. Inspired by the Massachusetts bill, similar legislation was introduced in New York State. In efforts to promote national anti-bullying legislation, a "Phoebe’s Law" has been proposed. In July 2010, the South Hadley school committee adopted a more comprehensive anti-bullying policy.
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On March 29, 2010, Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel announced at a press conference that nine teenagers from South Hadley High School were indicted as adults on felony charges by a Hampshire County grand jury. Charges ranged from statutory rape for the two male teenagers involved (both adults under Massachusetts law) to violation of civil rights, criminal harassment, disturbance of a school assembly, and stalking. Additional delinquency complaints were also filed against the three female minors indicted by the grand jury. One was charged with assault with a deadly weapon for throwing a can at Phoebe Prince. A separate delinquency complaint was filed against one of the three female minors for assault and battery against another victim at South Hadley High School (a girl who was attacked at school after appearing in a TV news report describing the bullying that took place at South Hadley High School). At least four of these six students reportedly were still attending South Hadley High School when the charges were announced.
In her statement, Scheibel directly contradicted previous claims by school Superintendent Gus Sayer that school officials had been unaware of the bullying at the school:
Contrary to previously published reports, Phoebe’s harassment was common knowledge to most of the South Hadley High School student body. The investigation has revealed that certain faculty, staff and administrators of the high school also were alerted to the harassment of Phoebe Prince before her death. Prior to Phoebe’s death, her mother spoke with at least two school staff members about the harassment Phoebe had reported to her.
Some bystanders, including at least four students and two faculty members, intervened while the harassment was occurring or reported it to administrators. A lack of understanding of harassment associated with teen dating relationships seems to have been prevalent at South Hadley High School. That, in turn, brought an inconsistent interpretation in enforcement in the school’s code of conduct when incidents were observed and reported.
In reviewing this investigation, we’ve considered whether or not the actions or omissions to act by faculty, staff and administrators of the South Hadley public schools individually, or collectively, amounted to criminal behavior. In our opinion, it did not. Nevertheless, the actions or inactions of some adults at the school are troublesome.
Scheibel indicated that the investigation was ongoing and that charges against additional South Hadley students were likely. She urged schools to adopt anti-bullying awareness and training programs for staff and students and expressed the wishes of the Prince family to refrain from vigilantism and to seek justice only through the criminal justice system. “Now is not the time for retributions or reprisals,” Scheibel said.
Two days after the District Attorney's news conference, school superintendent Gus Sayer again denied that school administrators had ignored the bullying of Phoebe Prince. South Hadley school officials released a statement that "we have taken disciplinary action with an additional small group of students and they have been removed from the high school." However, the school statement was unclear as to whether any of the accused individuals were actually expelled from the school. At least one news report stated that all of the accused were still at the school.
Three of the accused pleaded not guilty through their lawyers in Hampshire Superior Court on April 6. Another three, minors under Massachusetts law (under age 17), pleaded not guilty to delinquency charges on April 8 in Franklin-Hampshire Juvenile Court in Hadley. The three female minors were also arraigned as youthful offenders on the adult felony charges. All six defendants waived their right to appear in court and did not appear at their arraignment hearings. All were ordered to stay away from the Prince family.
Initial media reports that nine teenagers had been charged were incorrect and were caused by DA Scheibel's sequential listing of the grand jury and Juvenile Court charges in her press conference. The confusion came about because Scheibel could not release the names of those charged in the juvenile delinquency complaints because of confidentiality laws. However, subsequently it has been confirmed that there were only six teenagers charged in all.
On the day of Prince's suicide, three of the accused, including the male football player who had earlier had the relationship with Prince, allegedly engaged in persistent taunting and harassment of Prince at school, in the library and school auditorium. One of the accused allegedly followed Prince home from school in a friend's car, threw an empty can at her, and yelled an insult. It was right after this final incident that Phoebe Prince hanged herself at home.
Copies of the court documents with the full details of the case against the three female minors were posted on a CNN webpage.
- Mass. bullying suspect seeks dismissal of charges By STEPHANIE REITZ (AP) – Sep 15, 2010
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- Nine teenagers, three juveniles charged in 'unrelenting' bullying of Phoebe Prince watch video for full details of her statement: http://www.necn.com/pages/landing?blockID=206290
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- Greg Saulmon, South Hadley Police Chief David J. LaBrie watching threats against Phoebe Prince's alleged bullies; developer of Web sites targeting female defendants declines to name client http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2010/04/sites_targeting_phoebe_princes.html
- Sandra Constantine, South Hadley superintendent Gus Sayer says DA's findings in Phoebe Prince case consistent with school's investigation http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2010/03/south_hadley_superintendent_gu.html
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- Stephen Singer, 3 plead not guilty in Mass. school bullying case. http://web.archive.org/web/20100411223721/http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jtSfPUlJn7oUv4nT-KF2Kqs7J6mQD9ETQ8S01
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- Nate Walsh, Court documents detail bullying of Phoebe Prince http://www.wggb.com/Global/story.asp?S=12285134 Note: additional information appears in the video posted on this news webpage, with glimpses of the actual court documents. The audio commentary for this video is incorrect about Longe throwing a bottle, as the video shot of the court document clearly shows it saying this was an empty can of "Monster Drink"
- Erik Eckholm, Katie Zezima, Documents Detail a Girl’s Final Days of Bullying http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/09/us/09bully.html?src=mv Note: this reference states that it was an empty can of an energy drink
- Ann O'Neill, Court filing reveals taunted teen's anguish in final hours http://www.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/04/09/massachusetts.bullying.suicide/?hpt=Sbin
- Chapter 92 of the Acts of 2010 - Massachusetts anti-bullying law