Friday 26 May 2017

School must be 'held to account' in Phoebe case

Governor hits out at teachers who ignored bullied teen's plea for help

TORMENTED: Phoebe Prince took her own life after relentless bullying by classmates
TORMENTED: Phoebe Prince took her own life after relentless bullying by classmates
Ronald Quinlan

Ronald Quinlan

THE governor of Massachusetts has called for school officials to be "held accountable" over the case of Clare-born Phoebe Prince, as court documents revealed how the 15-year-old pleaded unsuccessfully with her teachers to be allowed go home to escape the bullying campaign against her in the weeks leading up to her suicide.

Addressing the tragic case in an interview on local radio station WTKK FM last Friday, Deval Patrick said that officials at South Hadley High School "should certainly be held accountable, describing it as "outrageous" that more had not been done to protect Ms Prince from her classroom tormentors.

Court documents released by prosecutors in the case last Thursday claim that the bullied Irish girl begged school administrators a week before her death to be allowed home so she would not be beaten up.

Officials at the school have denied the allegation, and insisted that they only heard from teachers and students that Ms Prince was having trouble with her schoolmates in the week before she hanged herself.

The high school's counter claim stands in stark contrast to the case presented by prosecutors. Detailing a relentless campaign of harassment against the teenager, prosecutors describe three months in which she endured a torrent of verbal and physical abuse at the hands of six of her classmates, two of whom she had previously dated.

Three 16-year-old girls -- Ashley Longe, Sharon Channon Velazquez and Flannery Mullins -- have been charged as youths with violation of civil rights and stalking.

Three others -- Sean Mulveyhill, 17, Austin Renaud, 18, and Kayla Narey, 17 -- have been charged as adults with similar offences. In the case of Mulveyhill and Renaud, charges of statutory rape have also been brought.

Describing the events leading up to Ms Prince's death on January 14 last, the court documents offer disturbing details of her alleged verbal and physical abuse by her tormentors.

Taunts of 'Irish slut' and 'whore' would mark only the beginning of a concerted campaign that shortly escalated into threats of physical violence.

Ms Prince moved to the US with her family in autumn last year. And as early as last December, the teenager is said, for instance, to have been confronted by Sharon Velasquez in the school cafeteria, who it is alleged started screaming at her, calling her a 'whore' and telling her to stay away from "people's men".

Fleeing to the bathroom, Ms Prince is said to have been pursued by Flannery Mullins who witnesses say proceeded to shout at her, calling her an 'Irish slut'. It was a term of abuse that would be heard in the school's corridors repeatedly in the weeks leading up to Ms Prince's death, prosecutors say.

Even on the day the schoolgirl hanged herself, it is claimed that Ms Longe verbally abused Ms Prince in the school library, branding her an "Irish whore" and telling her to "close your legs".

Ms Longe is also alleged to have declared how she hated "stupid sluts".

A note posted on the wall of the library, meanwhile, is said to have stated: "Irish bitch is a c***."

Later that same day in the school, it is said that Ms Prince was asked: "Why don't you just open your legs?"

Walking to her home for the final time, prosecutors claim that a car containing several of her tormentors drew up beside her, and that Ms Longe then threw a can of 'Monster Energy' drink at her.

A friend of Ms Prince's, who witnessed the incident, described hearing laughter coming from the car as it sped away from the scene.

At 5pm on January 14, police investigators were called to the home Ms Prince shared with her mother and siblings in South Hadley, where they discovered what is described in the court papers as "the lifeless body of a white female, hanging in the rear stairwell of the apartment".

Prosecutors describe the grim discovery as the end of weeks of abuse suffered by Ms Prince.

According to the court papers in the case, the problems for the girl began last November, within weeks of her arrival in South Hadley.

Popular and attractive, Ms Prince quickly drew the attention of the school's football star, Sean Mulveyhill, and later of Austin Renaud.

A brief relationship with Mr Mulveyhill and a subsequent fling with Mr Renaud is said by prosecutors to have sown the seeds for what they describe as an unrelenting campaign of intimidation, taunts, abuse and threats of physical violence.

Fanning the flames of the bullying campaign was the fact that Mr Mulveyhill had previously dated Ms Narey, while Mr Renaud had been involved in what prosecutors describe as an on-off relationship with Ms Mullins.

Shouts of 'Irish whore' and 'slut' were merely the beginning of the abuse, which quickly escalated to threats of physical violence.

Ms Prince is said to have told a friend that she was not a "not a tough girl . . . would not know how to fight".

She is then said to have informed school officials that she was scared and wanted to go home. Believing that they would not intervene to protect her, Ms Prince is said to have taken to walking through the corridors of the school surrounded by friends to protect her from the threat of physical assault.

One week later, she took her own life.

Sunday Independent

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