Criminal Charges Filed Against Bullies in Phoebe Prince Case


It is not often that students are charged in criminal court for their participation in bullying.  But that is what happened this week.  As has been well-publicized, 15-year-old Phoebe Prince of South Hadley, Massachusetts, committed suicide in January after experiencing extreme levels of bullying from her classmates.  After conducting a thorough investigation, District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel announced that nine teens who were implicated in the bullying have now been charged with various crimes, including: violation of civil rights, criminal harassment, and disturbing a school assembly.  Two male students have also been charged with statutory rape.  We will closely follow this case through the courts as it represents an extreme response to an extreme incident, and may well serve as precedent for future cases.

No matter how you view this case, it is tragic.  A 15-year-old girl took her own life after what appears to be relentless emotional and psychological bullying from her peers.  Unfortunately “bullicide,” as it has been termed, is not altogether uncommon.  Many parents experience a horrific void for the rest of their lives after losing a child to suicide stemming directly or indirectly from experiences with bullying.  Adults who dismiss bullying as simple “kids will be kids” behavior or a “rite of passage” should pay close attention to these worst case scenarios.  I have been asked many times by naïve adults over the years: “What’s the big deal, it is only text?”  I simply tell them to ask John Halligan or Mark Neblett or Debbie Johnston or now Anne O’Brien Prince, or any one of the other parents who have had children take their own lives as a result of bullying.  It can take an unimaginable toll on the loved ones left behind.

While the bullying actions of the teens involved are reprehensible, I am interested in where the adults were during all of this and what their response was.  I am especially interested in learning more about what the school (teachers and administrators) knew.  There is conflicting information in the media reports about whether administrators knew about the bullying, and the specific actions that were taken.  The law is clear that if it can be shown that schools are ‘deliberately indifferent’ to harassment, they could be found liable for damages.  Burying one’s head in the proverbial sand and pretending that bullying isn’t occurring is not a legitimate response.  Not morally, and not legally.

If parents, teachers, and administrators would have identified and responded to the bullying of Phoebe Prince in a meaningful way, the loss of life may not have occurred.  If you are an educator or a parent, don’t think that your students and children are safe just because bullying is not a major, visible problem in your school.  Be proactive about educating youth regarding appropriate behaviors and empower them to let you know about any actions or interactions that may compromise the safe and secure environment that should be in place on campus. Teens are reluctant to tell adults about their bullying experiences because they are afraid it will only make the situation.  Parents and educators need to present a clear and unified front against all forms of bullying, and let would-be bullies know that disciplinary action will be taken.  While I am not convinced that criminal action is the most appropriate course to take in all cases, it certainly sends a strong message to teachers, parents, and students.


  1. I am not usually at a loss for words, but when a child takes such extreme measures in a misguided effort to bring themselves emotional release, I am simply dumbfounded. It is the saddest possible outcome of bullying. I also question where the adults in her life were and why didn't anyone in a position of authority take this seriously enough to prevent this tragedy? It is a positive change that criminal charges in this case are being pursued, but many cases of extreme bullying will still never make it to the courts until laws are changed and bullying is taken seriously by everyone responsible for keeping children safe-parents,teachers, administrators, and the criminal justice system. My heart goes out to her family. They will never heal from this tragedy and neither will Phoebe now.I am deeply disturbed by this case, as I am all of them that I know about.

  2. I am happy that these criminals are being forced to accept responsibility for their actions. Happy that their photos are being broadcast through the media.

  3. My heart and sympathies go out to her family. I really hope something more in the future will be done to prevent future tragedies.

  4. Extremely sad, and how common it is is even worse.

    Directed at Faith, as a 16 year old teen, and a major social networking generation teen, I know firsthand how easy it is to get targeted by bullies, and how hard it is to find help. You run the risk of becoming cyber bullied the second you put yourself on the internet. Parents think that they can use the internet often and not get bullied, but they have never done social networking as frequently and as actively as others.

    Children participate so much, and where high school cliques of the previous generation existed before, they are replaced by groups on myspace, who exploit social networking to attack other teens.

    Sites where questions can be asked anonymously can be home to serious problems. is a site where users ask people to ask them questions. This, in turn, turns into a serious predatory attack, and for teens who actively put themselves out there on the internet, can be home to some extremly hurtful and derogatory remarks.

    I am actually writing a paper on why social networking sites should take active measures to stop cyber bullying.

  5. WOW! I am blown away, it breaks my heart that these children were in so much pain that they choose to end their own life. Growing up I think all kids go through ups and downs, and at the time things seem so important. Looking back I do remember that, being popular is all that matters to kids, you desperately want to be accepted and fit in. Now that I am older, I look back at how insignificant all of that is, and I look at where the school bullies are today, most of them are college drop-outs and alcoholics.

    I strongly agree that these social-networking sites, hold the power, they need to do something to stop this before someone else dies.

    My hearts go out to the families who are suffering the loss of their child, I can only imagine.

    God Bless

  6. Schools need to take the lead in educating their students and parents about the various forms of bullying. Unfortunately, this family has lost their daughter. As a mother of two daughters, it is troubling that technology is used to carry out acts of cruelty. As a teacher and counselor, I see forms of bullying carried out by cell phones, IM, tweets, and social networking sites. It is very hard to police and schools have little authority to enforce "off campus" activities. I have found that parents lack the skills necessary to monitor their children/teens with technology. In this instance, I am glad that authorities are pursuing legal action against the students who acted maliciously.

  7. Recently the High School where I work has relaxed its cell phone usage policy. Students can now use their cell phones in the hallways between classes and during the lunch periods. I am starting to worrying about the increased bullying that will take place during the regular school day via texting. I am not sure we are ready/prepared to respond to the increase in bullying that potentially is going to occur and I am not sure we have worked out the logistics for the required disciplinary response that will need to be enforced.

  8. I am an elem. school educator who recently presented 3 days/one hour per day cyberbully awareness to 5th graders and staff. I believe in educating students to be aware of various forms of cyberbullying using information from Netsmartz, Stop Cyberbulling, and this site. The students were truly engrossed and responsive to the information. The fellow teachers, shall I say the 'older generation', are in denial that this behavior exists. Due to the education that our kids had those three days, many have stepped forward to confess inappropriate behavior.

  9. I completely agree with Christine. I feel that we need to also somehow reach out to parents as well because it seems they may be falling short in their efforts to support their kids as they struggle through adolescence.

  10. I read a story where a kid was constantly bullied through out his entire life. Every one either participated or ignored it. Teachers especially stuck their heads in the sand. The gym teacher ignored everything because one of the bullies was his star athlete. The bullied boy's friend turned on him to date his tormenter. His BROTHER ignored it and from time to time picked on him. Finally he came to school with a gun and just… Shot. He went on trial for murder and went to jail for fifteen years.

  11. i used to bully kids around but when i herd this case i stopped because i don't want to be held accountable for murder and i never new that it made people feel as bad is it did phoebe.

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