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Far from being typical victims, these were smart girls with bright futures

THERE was no hint of 'victim' in the photographs, which depict a happy young girl on the cusp of womanhood.

She had a bewitching smile, a bubbly spirit and appeared to have a confidence that belied her tender years.

Erin Gallagher (13) was remembered as a "beautiful wee angel", a wonderful sister, a pleasant and well-mannered pupil and a "lovely, lovely girl who never did anyone any harm in her life".

Not the 'type' of person who might be expected to be bullied, it could be said.

But then, the same could be said of pretty, outgoing Ciara Pugsley (15), from Dromahair, Co Leitrim -- who took her own life last month because of a spiteful online bullying campaign.

Her bullies accused her of inventing her depression so she could gain attention.

Phoebe Prince did not 'look' like a bullying victim either. The artistic and highly intelligent young teen was brimming with excitement at her arrival in an American high school.

But her Irish accent and romance with a popular 'jock' were seized upon by bullies, propelling Phoebe into a nightmare and she took her own life more than two years ago.

Earlier this month, Canadian teenager Amanda Todd also died from suicide, after years of bullying that culminated with classmates calling her a 'porn star' when she was viciously targeted by a paedophile.

Four beautiful girls, who -- to the casual observer -- looked like typical teenagers with nothing to worry them but the unfairness of homework.

But there is no 'typical' victim of bullying.

They were living their own lives, dealing with their own teenage worries when casual bullies swooped to prey. And instantly, life went from normal to nightmare.

It didn't matter how their parents, family or friends moved to reassure them. It mattered not that soon the bully would have moved onto somebody else.

Parents are always urged to be vigilant when it comes to spotting whether their child is being bullied.

Schools should be more aware than they are of recognising the vital signs.

But just as important as identifying the victim is spotting the bullies behind the sweetly smiling faces.

For parents, that could be the hardest call of all.

Irish Independent