Wednesday 13 December 2017

Phoebe bullies 'not mean girls'

Teenagers get probation as lawyer claims they have been demonised

15-year-old Phoebe Prince who committed suicide last year after being bullied
15-year-old Phoebe Prince who committed suicide last year after being bullied
Sharon Chanon Velazquez
Flannery Mullins
Ashley Longe pictured last September

Donal Lynch in Hadley, Massachusetts

THREE American teenage girls admitted yesterday they participated in the bullying of a 15-year-old girl from Ireland who later committed suicide, with one of the girl's lawyers complaining they had been unfairly demonised as "mean girls".

Sharon Chanon Velazquez (17), Flannery Mullins (18), and Ashley Longe (18), were sentenced to various terms of probation after they admitted to charges in the bullying of Phoebe Prince, a freshman at South Hadley High School in Massachusetts who hanged herself in January 2010.

Prosecutors said Phoebe, who had recently emigrated from Ireland, was hounded by five teens after she briefly dated two boys.

Under a plea deal approved by Phoebe's family, prosecutors agreed to dismiss more serious charges against them.

Velazquez admitted to sufficient facts on a criminal harassment charge, Mullins admitted to a civil rights violation of Phoebe and disturbing a school assembly, while Longe admitted a misdemeanour of criminal harassment and will be on probation until her 19th birthday.

Phoebe's mother Anne O'Brien commended Longe -- described as Phoebe's primary tormentor -- for her statements of remorse.

"Ashley was asking to meet me for an awful long time now, and I think that shows a lot of courage," she said, adding that she was "very satisfied" that Longe had offered the "accountability and remorse we have been asking for since January 14, 2010".

Velazquez and Mullins will be dismissed if they successfully complete their probation. By admitting to sufficient facts, they acknowledged that prosecutors could win a conviction if the case went to trial.

Lawyers for both girls, while offering condolences to Phoebe's family, said they believed the girls had been treated harshly by prosecutors and the media.

Alfred Chamberland, a lawyer for Mullins, said it was not a "relentless" three-month bullying campaign, as prosecutors had previously alleged.

He said Mullins did not even know who Phoebe was until she returned to school in January 2010 and heard that Phoebe had been dating her boyfriend, Austin Renaud.

In a statement he read to reporters, Mr Chamberland said prosecutors had "overcharged" the girls and the media had unfairly portrayed them as "mean girls and bullies".

"She never spoke directly with. . . Phoebe Prince," he said.

In court, Assistant District Attorney Steven Gagne said that after hearing rumours at school that Phoebe had had "some sort of romantic relationship" with her boyfriend, she told at least one classmate that "someone ought to kick her ass".


Then, during gym class, several students heard her and others making "disparaging and vulgar" comments about Phoebe, Mr Gagne said.

He said Velazquez, Mullins' friend, then approached Phoebe in a "loud and threatening manner" and called her names.

Velazquez was also overheard telling Mullins that she was willing to hit Phoebe or get someone else to do it.

"Word quickly spread. . . that Mullins was angry at Phoebe Prince and. . . planned on fighting her," Mr Gagne said.

Mrs O'Brien, delivered an emotional victim impact statement, recalling her daughter's "kind heart" and the compassion she showed to others.

"Phoebe had as much right as Flannery Mullins to be in school. She was an intelligent student with a promise of high achievement," she said.

Irish Independent

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