A District Attorney in western Massachusetts is being hailed for being the one person to stand up for Phoebe Prince -- a 15-year-old who killed herself after relentless bullying at school. Critics say school officials looked the other way. Well, DA Betsy Scheibel did not.
Phoebe had recently moved to South Hadley from Ireland. She had the audacity to have a couple of flings with boys, including a football star. A group of girls didn't like that, so they tormented Phoebe, calling her, among other things, an "Irish slut," according to Scheibel. It became too much for Phoebe, so she committed suicide in January.
Writes Boston Globe columnist Kevin Cullen:
In the days and weeks after Jan. 14, when 15-year-old Phoebe Prince hanged herself in a closet in her family’s apartment on Newton Street, the students who bullied her to death continued to walk the halls of South Hadley High as if nothing had happened. And the people who ran the schools seemed fine with that.
Well, Scheibel was not fine with that. So yesterday she announced charges against 9 students. Six of them in their older teens -- four girls and two boys -- are charged with assault, violation of civil rights resulting in injury, criminal harassment, disturbance of a school assembly, and stalking. The two boys are also charged with statutory rape. Three female juveniles face delinquency charges.
School officials could not be charged, but they still carry some guilt, according to Cullen:
But what Scheibel had to say was as much an indictment of a look-the-other-way, kids-will-be-kids culture that permeated South Hadley High. Whatever we expect students to do in these situations, there were adults at the high school who didn’t intervene when they could have, adults who didn’t protect Phoebe after Anne Prince told them her daughter was being tormented.
After this and another suicide, the Massachusetts legislature is finally getting tough on bullying, introducing bills to fight it. Unfortunately, the Globe writes in another editorial, they come too late for Phoebe.
When the bullying goes beyond meanness, criminal accountability is the ultimate consequence. Prince’s life became a daily ordeal of extraordinary horrors. It is sad that the DA’s investigation supports that outcome; sadder still that the criminal justice system kicked in far too late to save a young girl’s life.