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Girls blamed in cyberbullying whose victim, 12, killed herself


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By The Associated Press
Friday, Sept. 13, 2013, 7:30 p.m.
 

TAMPA, Fla. — 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.”

Rebecca couldn't take it anymore.

She changed one of her online screen names to “That Dead Girl.” She messaged a boy in North Carolina: “I'm jumping.” And then, on Monday, the Lakeland girl went to an abandoned concrete plant, climbed a tower and hurled herself to her death.

Authorities have seized computers and cellphones from some of the girls as they decide whether to bring charges in what appeared to be the nation's latest deadly cyberbullying case.

The bullying started over a “boyfriend issue” last year at Crystal Lake Middle School, said Sheriff Grady Judd, but provided no details. Police said Rebecca was suspended at one point for fighting with a girl who used to be her friend.

Rebecca had been “absolutely terrorized” by the other girls, Judd said. He said detectives found some of her diaries at her home, and she talked of how depressed she was about the situation.

“Her writings would break your heart,” he said.

The case has illustrated, once more, the ways in which youngsters are using the Internet to torment others.

“There is a lot of digital drama. Middle-school kids are horrible to each other, especially girls,” said Perry Aftab, a New Jersey-based lawyer and expert on cyberbullying.

In December, Rebecca was hospitalized for three days after cutting her wrists because of what she said was bullying, according to the sheriff. Later, after Rebecca complained that she had been pushed in the hallway and that another girl wanted to fight her, Rebecca's mother began home-schooling her in Lakeland.

This fall, Rebecca started at a new school, Lawton Chiles Middle Academy, and loved it, Judd said. But the bullying continued online.

“She put on a perfect, happy face. She never told me,” Rebecca's mother, Tricia Norman, told the Lakeland Ledger. “I never had a clue. I mean, she told me last year when she was being bullied, but not this year, and I have no idea why.”

After Rebecca's suicide, police looked at her computer and found search queries such as “what is overweight for a 13-year-old girl”; “how to get blades out of razors”; and “how many over-the-counter drugs do you take to die.” One of her screensavers also showed Rebecca with her head resting on a railroad track.

Detectives said the other girls' parents have been cooperative.

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