Staff at Phoebe's school could face charges
Published 31/03/2010 | 05:00
THE possibility of legal charges against staff in a US school where an Irish girl was bullied before she committed suicide has not been ruled out, prosecutors told the Irish Independent last night.
The disclosure came as a district attorney charged nine students -- including seven girls -- with offences including civil rights violations, statutory rape, stalking and inflicting bodily injury to Phoebe Prince.
Prosecutors claim some staff at the Massachusetts school attended by Phoebe (15), who grew up in Fanore, Co Clare, knew of the bullying -- which took place in person and on social networking sites -- but did nothing to stop the students involved.
Phoebe hanged herself in her family's apartment on January 14 after a final, horrific day of bullying and abuse waged by a gang of so-called 'mean girls', jealous over her brief dating of a school footballer.
They had labelled her an "Irish slut" and the high school footballer had himself turned on the teenager and joined in the campaign of abuse which encompassed threats and insults on the Facebook website and an allegation of rape.
The suicide, said prosecutor Elizabeth Scheibel, was the culmination "of this nearly three-month campaign of verbally assaultive behaviour and threats of physical harm.
"The investigation revealed relentless activity directed toward Phoebe, designed to humiliate her and to make it impossible for her to remain at school," she said. "The bullying, for her, became intolerable."
Insults and threats followed the pretty 15-year-old almost from her first day at South Hadley High School, targeting the Irish immigrant in the halls, library, in vicious mobile phone text messages and she was even pelted with drinks as she walked home from school.
Phoebe was born in England and moved to Ireland when she was two with her parents, Anne O'Brien Prince and Jeremy Prince. The family, with sisters Lauren, Tessa and Bridget and brother Simon, moved to the US last year.
When asked if teaching staff could still face charges over the case, a spokesperson for Ms Scheibel told the Irish Independent last night: "We do not know what the future will hold. Nothing can be ruled out at this stage," she said.
In another twist to a case that has horrified America and ignited a debate on teenage bullying, the mother of a student charged in the case admitted her daughter had verbally clashed with Phoebe.
None of the nine teenagers face arrest, the spokesperson said. Instead they will be summonsed to court in the coming weeks for a trial date.
Management at South Hadley High School denied it knew of the abuse until Phoebe died but it has since emerged that her mother had discussed the bullying with at least two members of staff.
Last night an anti-bullying consultant, Barbara Coloroso, said she consulted with parents and administrators months before Phoebe's death but the school didn't follow the advice she gave it.
"Contrary to previously published reports, Phoebe's harassment was common knowledge to most of the student body," said Ms Scheibel.
Sean Mulveyhill (17) and Austin Renaud (18) are accused of statutory rape, while Mulveyhill also faces charges of violation of civil rights, harassment and disturbance of a school assembly.
Kayla Narey (17) was charged with violation of civil rights, criminal harassment and disturbance of a school assembly.
Ashley Longe (16) faces charges of violation of civil rights as a youthful offender.
Flannery Mullins (16) and Sharon Chanon Velazquez (16) were charged with violation of civil rights and stalking as a youthful offender. Three female juveniles, who were not named but are all from South Hadley, are also being charged.
Statutory rape charges can result in penalties of up to life in prison, while conviction on a violation of civil rights charge could result in a 10-year jail sentence.
Some of the bullying and abuse is alleged to have happened in front of teachers. The school's own website contains no reference to Phoebe's death and there is no online mem-orial for the Irish teenager.
Ashlee Dunn (16) told the 'New York Times' she had heard stories spread about Phoebe in the hallways. "She was new and she was from a different country and she didn't really know the school very well. I think that's probably one reason why they chose Phoebe."
Phoebe's family has since moved away from the area.
The mother of Sharon Chanon Velazquez claimed yesterday her daughter had never hit Phoebe.
"She exchanged a couple of words with her," said Angeles Chanon. She refused to say what her daughter said in the confrontations with Phoebe. "My daughter never fought with her or said, 'Go harm yourself', or 'I hate you'."
Ms Chanon said her daughter had informed her about the dispute. "Phoebe was calling her names. They're teenagers. They call names," she told the 'Boston Herald' newspaper.
"It's very unfortunate to know what happened to that girl. I can hardly imagine what that family is going through," the mother said.
Another student who is not facing charges, Sergio Loubriel (14), said he regretted never telling Phoebe he had a crush on her. "I wish I could have stopped it," he said.