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Story pick: What if bullies didn't push Phoebe Prince to suicide?

The standard story line in the tragic tale of Phoebe Prince -- the 15-year-old ninth grader in Massachusetts who killed herself in January after other kids at school were cruel to her and called her an "Irish slut" -- is that the children now charged with bullying contributed mightily to her death.

Now, in a rigorously reported piece on Slate.com, Emily Bazelon writes that although some of those children indeed treated Prince shabbily, "Phoebe helped set in motion the conflicts with other students that ended in them turning on her. Her death was tragic, and she shouldn't have been bullied. But she was deeply troubled long before she ever met the six defendants."

Bazelon reports that "The whole story is a lot more complicated than anyone has publicly allowed for" and that Prince started cutting herself back in 2008, when she attended a boarding school in Ireland, that she wrote a school essay about cutting, and that she was in treatment for emotional difficulties in 2009.

The reporter visited with students, parents and teachers and found a consensus that although bullying was a problem at the school and needs to be addressed, the popular version of what preceded and perhaps precipitated Prince's suicide is way, way off.

The story lays out in extraordinary detail the teenage romances and tensions that played out in the months before Prince killed herself. What emerges is a tale of kids making obnoxious online comments about one another, frequent "bitch fights" inside the school, and a teen culture in which ugly, soap-operatic teen confrontations were considered "normal girl drama."

Bazelon's bottom line is that whatever emotional strains and personal traumas led to a tragic ending for Phoebe Prince, the proper way to look at such cases is through the prisms of kid culture, parenting, education and mental illness--and probably not through the law. Proving that someone was responsible for the suicide of another is an awfully difficult task, and it's not clear that it serves much purpose, Bazelon writes. The real work of addressing the culture of cruelty at the school in South Hadley should take place among parents and teachers, but early steps in that direction were cut short by the prosecution of those who are charged in the bullying case.

By Marc Fisher  | July 22, 2010; 8:26 AM ET
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Comments

"The real work of addressing the culture of cruelty at the school in South Hadley should take place among parents and teachers, but early steps in that direction were cut short by the prosecution of those who are charged in the bullying case."

Your statement that the prosecution had somehow cut short the gains that were being made among some abstracted South Hadley citizens is indeed ludicrous. Early steps in that direction were cut short by the fear and shortsightedness of the School Administration (and company.) There was ample time and opportunity for constructive action.

However, I did not find Emily Bazelon's Slate article to be rigorously researched, or to be particularly well written. Bezelon failed to report that among the members of the Anti-Bullying Task Force is parent representative, Jennifer Mullins. That is an artifact of the culture.

Posted by: Bote | July 22, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Why is no one asking the pointed question, "How did Ms. Prince's psychotropic drug history play into the picture?"

We at CCHR know that psychotropic drugs kill and the mantra that psychiatry kills is accurate.

Suicide is a crime in our society. What is the cause of crime? The "treatment" of course.

Does the Post have an investigative reporter who will correctly report this story and an editor who will publish the truth, that psychiatry kills?

The bullying came from those who had been educated by psychological education in our schools. Her problems were deeper seated and rooted in psych drugs.

We need to understand who should be on trial here. And yes she was killed.

Posted by: jeffgriffin | July 22, 2010 8:48 PM | Report abuse

My heart breaks for this girl and her family. It is a sad truth in our American schools that bullying is such a major problem (and it is in all our schools across the country).

We too are 3 years new to a school and we have found the majority of the bully issues come from the athletics kids. It amazes me how when something like this happens - the first thing everyone says is "Well they couldn't have done that - they are captain of the football team". Our society seems to have gotten to the place where schools, parents and society in general feel that just because a kid is in these athletic programs- that they can do no wrong.

Our kids have that figured out and the bullying they do is done under-the-table and in ways that the teachers and administrators aren't seeing until it's too late. We as parents and society have to change this concept and demand that to be in athletics you are required to treat your fellow classmates and teachers with respect first and formost. Winning a state tournament comes after that.

There are many personalities, talents and untapped potential in our high school kids today. Unfortunately - unless you are an athlete/cheerleader in our public schools today then surviving the high school years can become the most difficult time during a young person's life. That is very wrong and should not be expected or demanded of our kids at their most vulnerable time in life. Our kids should not have to "survive in this type of atmosphere" just to get their education and high school diploma. Once you are out in the workplace - if issues among personalities like this arrise - usually someone is fired if it isn't worked out. Our kids do not have that option.

If nothing else comes from this girl's death - I hope it makes all the schools across our country start taking responsiblity to get this stopped. Then her death won't be in vain. These kids need to be held accountable for their actions and more of our athletes need to start realizing that with their fame comes serious moral obligations to treat those around them right.
Further more our professional athletes need to start setting the example for these kids. I heard a reporter on the Tiger Woods story ask what it would take for Tiger to earn back his status. The answer from the man he was interviewing replied - 'he needs to win again- and all will be forgiven'. This is what we are teaching our kids and it could not be more wrong. Being an athlete is not about being able to act however you will - then if you do happen to be caught expect it to be swept under the rug and ignored. This is where we are failing as parents, schools, administrators, and coaches.

The kids in this bullying case want this to all go away and get the lives back that they had before - they stepped over the line in treating someone with human respect. Even if she may have been different or new in the school - she did not as a fellow human being deserve what they did to her.

Posted by: dakmem | July 23, 2010 1:11 AM | Report abuse

Bote is correct about writer's statement that: "The real work of addressing the...cruelty at the school in South Hadley...[was] cut short by the prosecution of those who are charged in the bullying case."

Agreed: absurd...and S.Hadley had ample time for CONSTRUCTIVE action - and to investigate why the DA's inv. has many damning facts that the SHHS inv. does not.

Regrettably the (panicked?) SH Public Schools & the SH School Committee (SHSC) retreated in fear.

SHSC and SHPS has all but silenced any perceived threats to this silent retreat - kicking out one concerned parent (escorted by POLICE) at a SHPS public meeting.
(After ACLU intervention, SHSC changed their First Amendment/free-speech course.)
- - - - - - - - - -
Back to Emily Bazelon's article.

Good job on presenting the history of Phoebe Prince's mental illness.

But how does Phoebe's mental illness, to the point of suicide, lessen the "legality" or cruelty of the six defendants' criminal actions?

They are not charged with homicide or manslaughter. But they do face statutory rape (for the two young men); criminal harassment; stalking (for two of the girls); and assault (for a 3rd girl who allegedly threw a drink can at Phoebe); and violation of civil rights.

Would these offenses be less serious if Phoebe wasn't mentally ill? Or didn't commit suicide?

According to Ms. Bazelon, defendants Flannery Mullins and friend Sharon Chanon Velasquez believed Phoebe "stole" Flannery's man Austin, so Phoebe "put into motion" what ensued: their stalking and assault threats.

According to Ms. Bazelon, senior Sean Mulveyhill (who dated 14-yr-old Phoebe in Nov.2009) felt Phoebe "derailed" his relationship with defendant Kayla Narey. So Phoebe "put into motion" what ensued: Sean harassed her...and encouraged Kayla and defendant/friend Ashley Longe to do same.

The cruelty of the defendants does not seem "normal girl drama," as Ms. Bazelon implies.

Neither do Phoebe's mental illness or actions seem to warrant the harassment/stalking/assault vs. her.

Posted by: CitizenOfWorld | July 23, 2010 11:27 PM | Report abuse

I read that article yesterday and didn't think it was as groundbreaking or as well-researched as others have found it. Emily purported to find new details, but she neglected to repeat telling "old details." The hateful pre-and post-mortem FB comments, the suspects lying to the police and then later bragging about it, imitating the hanging gesture. The kids are behaving in a psychopathic manner. Yes, Phoebe had pre-existing problems that probably made her an easy target. Yes, she was on meds that are difficult to properly titrate and can make matters worse if they aren't a good fit.
Also, in a video interview that was linked to the article, Emily got details dead wrong. The girls weren't actively dating those boys at the time. Phoebe tried to make things right by apologizing for getting involved with boys who were associated with other girls. Emily acted like Phoebe knowingly went after "taken" boys and then instigated things by telling one of the girls about the relationship. That's not the spin that was initially reported. Regardless, she didn't deserve to be harassed and targeted. I was bullied, I've had a horrible misunderstanding with someone (that old-fashioned logic could clear up) and have been harassed over it---I know how detrimental it is to be targeted. This article came off as blame the victim and we're being too hard on these kids (umm---throw the book at them if they really are guilty of what they are accused of, and use them as an example of how NOT to treat others and the consequences involved in mistreating someone).

Posted by: SarahOlivia37 | July 24, 2010 8:07 AM | Report abuse

I read that article yesterday and didn't think it was as groundbreaking or as well-researched as others have found it. Emily purported to find new details, but she neglected to repeat telling "old details." The hateful pre-and post-mortem FB comments, the suspects lying to the police and then later bragging about it, imitating the hanging gesture. The kids are behaving in a psychopathic manner. Yes, Phoebe had pre-existing problems that probably made her an easy target. Yes, she was on meds that are difficult to properly titrate and can make matters worse if they aren't a good fit.
Also, in a video interview that was linked to the article, Emily got details dead wrong. The girls weren't actively dating those boys at the time. Phoebe tried to make things right by apologizing for getting involved with boys who were associated with other girls. Emily acted like Phoebe knowingly went after "taken" boys and then instigated things by telling one of the girls about the relationship. That's not the spin that was initially reported. Regardless, she didn't deserve to be harassed and targeted. I was bullied, I've had a horrible misunderstanding with someone (that old-fashioned logic could clear up) and have been harassed over it---I know how detrimental it is to be targeted. This article came off as blame the victim and we're being too hard on these kids (umm---throw the book at them if they really are guilty of what they are accused of, and use them as an example of how NOT to treat others and the consequences involved in mistreating someone). I'm not saying that the kids can't be forgiven or turn over a new leaf; however, I AM saying that they deserve to experience some harsh consequences for their brutal, devoid of empathy behavior.

Posted by: SarahOlivia37 | July 24, 2010 8:09 AM | Report abuse

The truth has finally come out. Read my take here . I fed my tips to Emily and she went even deeper, after I spoke to her by phone. She, among all the other reporters, beleived me. We are not into hate. We are not blaming Phoebe. Here's my take, Jeff, and your reactions are welcome.

Lisa, I emailed the same news tips to Mr Eckholm and Ms Zemina at the Times when the story broke and I sent them also to all reporters covering this story in APril and only Ms Brazelon took my tips about earlier suicide and cutting seriously and went deeper and dug deeper and came up the very good follow up. She even took my phone call, frm Taiwan. But the rest of the news media in the USA refused to listen to me. It's on my blog from mid April, sources in South Hadley contacted my via email and FB and my blog zippy1300 by name and told me about the cutting, the cigarette burns on her arms, and 8 previous suicide attemtps in Ireland before Phoebe ever came to the USA. This will come out later. It wasn't just a suicide attempt in Mass. in 2009. This story has legs, sadly, and there's more to come. The Hollywood arc that the media fell for, including the Times and the Times bloggers on this, was the Mean Girls arc and while the bullies deserve the be punished, the school officials do too, and nobody wins here. But yes, reporters, and you too, Lisa, listen to people when the try to tell you news tips that they are sure of. You did not even return my emails to you back then. Neither did Holly Epstein. Neither did Dan Kennedy in Boston. Only smart savvy Emily B was brave enough to go where no other reported dared to go, and ask her, I was one of the people who supplied her with very good smoking gun tips that needed to be confirmed. She did. Good legwork, great reporter. She deserves a Pulitzer for this.

All that said, nobody is blaming Phoebe, who is an angel in heaven now. We are not blaming the victim. For me, I am blaming the news media for rushing to judgment when the story first broke in April and not allowing any contrarian news arcs to come into play....until now. Brazelon delivered the goods. And it's a tragedy all around.

google my blog search to see how i posted the exact same news, but unconfirmed, in April and May, and for this i earned the wrath of a huge party of angry people in South Hadley who did not want to hear the truth. They still don't, and a lad named sauerkraut is first among them. The blind leading the blind.

Posted by: 7788 | July 24, 2010 11:29 AM | Report abuse

I agree - this article and others like it that want to shift the blame from the bullies and drag in the 'mental issues' of this girl are out of line. I hope this type of defense backfires in the face of the kids charged. These bullies have got their own "issues" that they should be dealing with first before judging this girl. They need to take responsiblity for their actions - not pass blame.

The schools clearly need to be much quicker in dealing with these bully issues as well. From other articles I've read - this girl tried her best to deal with, ignore and hope that things would calm down with these kids and they continued to target her. What they did was wrong and it is going on in all our schools every day. Our kids are at a young and vulnerable age yet they are expected to know how to stop this type of thing when even the adults and school administrators can't control it?

Why can't we take responsiblity that this is out of control in our schools. Every school in our country should be using their guidance counselor office personal as an active full force antibullying program. These offices should be a safe haven for kids to get the backup support and pointers that they need to deal with these types of kids (also allowing the school to be fully aware of the fact it is going on so they can be on top of it). It shouldn't be an embarassment to the victim to have to admit this goes on and get it exposed- it should get to the place where it's embarassing to be exposed as the one doing the bullying. Right now that is not the case.

Yet it tends to be ignored - like it is just something that schools want to pretend isn't as bad as it really is. If any school admistrators read this please use what happened to this girl to start making drastic changes in your schools. If something isn't done more suicides and school shootings will continue until things are changed.

Posted by: dakmem | July 24, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

Emily Bazelon's article is a sickening and outrageous attempt to blame the victim.

If you read the indictment, it alleges more than enough evidence to support the charges of civil rights violation, harassment and statutory rape.

Phoebe's mental illness is irrelevant to these charges. If the defendants are found guilty, it may be relevant to their sentences that they hounded a vulnerable victim.

Likewise, all the detailed discussion about the "teenage romances" is irrelevant to whether the defendants' conduct constituted harassment and a violation of Phoebe's civil rights.

The allegations, if proven, amount to criminal conduct and should be punished as such. The fact that they were committed in school, and also amount to "bullying", does not change this. The real question is why such conduct is not prosecuted more often.

Posted by: Susan1231 | July 25, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

SARAHOLIVIA & SUSAN1231 are correct. The 2 seniors "stolen" by Phoebe were not dating defendants KAYLA NAREY & FLANNERY MULLINS at the time. Even if they were...
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
AND THE INDICTMENTS FOR 3 DEFENDANTS:
do cite evidence for crim. harassment, stalking (for only FLANNERY MULLINS & SHARON CHANON VELASQUEZ) and assault (for only ASHLEY LONGE, who threw drink can at Phoebe from a passing car).
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
JOURNALISTICALLY SPEAKING - EMILY BAZELON
What was the point in publishing - PRE-TRIAL - the history of Ph's mental illness - **given that it does NOT mitigate the 6 defendants' NON-homicide criminal charges** ??

What an aberration for Bazelon, a Yale Law-trained lawyer & already-proven journalist.

Journalists enjoy 1st Amendment rights (thankfully) - but this PRE-TRIAL publication was an indiscretion.

WHAT IF THE NEW HAVEN REGISTER PUBLISHED private info of Ms. Bazelon's sons if they engaged in misogynist harassing, stalking, threatening "normal child drama" - over the course of WEEKS/MONTHS (pls RE-read the indictments) - even if their school discipline system was inappropriate?

Posted by: CitizenOfWorld | July 25, 2010 3:04 PM | Report abuse

"a teen culture in which ugly, soap-operatic teen confrontations were considered "normal girl drama.""

I don't buy the idea that the kind of things that happened in that high school are normal or just kids being kids.

Emily has a very shallow and old fashioned view of mental illness. She is not qualified to criticize Phoebe's parents and doctors.

Posted by: DaveM62 | July 25, 2010 5:35 PM | Report abuse

Do you want to know how the Media Narrative About the Phoebe Prince Suicide/Bullying Case Changed in Midstream?

This comment is about how 'citizen journalism' blogs helped change the media narrative of a very complicated story.

Long live the blogosphere, and I'll tell you why. A chance encounter by an alert blogger in Taiwan about this sad suicide/bullying case in Massachusetts began a chain of events worldwide that led to a sea change in the way the national media covered the story. At first, the narrative was pure Hollywood: ''Mean Girls bully Immigrant Angel to death.''

Three months
later, due to heavy blogging lobbying and phone calls to specific reporters, the media narrative was transformed by Emily Bazelon's ground-breaking Slate article on July 20.

It took Kevin Cullen's Boston Globe softball story that created the Hollywood arc in the first place and turned it upside down. True story. Read on.

The news media covered the story when it first came out in early April 2010, from People magazine to the New York Times. It was a simple story: The mean bullies, evil callous teenage devils, bullied a sweet, pure, innocent Irish woman-child to death via suicide. It was a compelling story. It was sad, tragic, headline-grabbing. There might even be a movie in the works as we speak.

But like many people, a lone blogger in Taiwan read between the lines of the initial news stories and felt there was something deeper and more profound here. So from his cave in Taiwan, he started blogging
and emailing and contacting reporters stateside who were working on the story. Nobody answered him. Not the New York Times, not the Boston Globe.

The Boston Herald did follow up
on some of his emails and took a long 30 minute phone call from him -- on his time, his dime -- in April. But they reported nothing he told them. Then he began getting powerful tips from people in South Hadley, via Facebook and email and his blog.

One tip was overwhelming, about Phoebe's earlier suicide attempt and cutting and he had this info in April and blogged it then, but the media did not report it or pay attention. Par for the course. The news media is generally lazy. But not Emily Bazelon at Slate.

You see, Emily Bazelon at SLATE, whose first foray into the Prince story more or less followed the initial arc, took the lone blogger's emails and one phone call and she LISTENED. She asked for his
sources. He gave her as much info as he could. She went with it. She made some phone calls. She dug deeper and over the course of three months wrote a very very good expose of the real story. Published
on July 20 in SLATE.

The lone blogger in Taiwan had a hunch from the very beginning that there was MORE to this story than the national media was reporting. He followed his hunch and blogged his ideas. For this, he caught lots of
flak from people who were angry that he would even dare to say that Phoebe might have played a role in her own demise. But....

Posted by: 7788 | July 26, 2010 12:39 AM | Report abuse

The lone blogger in Taiwan had a hunch from the very beginning that there was MORE to this story than the national media was reporting. He followed his hunch and blogged his ideas. For this, he caught lots of
flak from people who were angry that he would even dare to say that Phoebe might have played a role in her own demise. He got called all kinds of names, but he didn't mind. He knew his hunch
was correct. He has this radar. You do, too, I am sure. Everyone does. Not everyone uses it, that's all.

And his hunch proved correct. His informants were correct. They had found the smoking guns.

The sad story of Phoebe's bullying -- yes, it WAS bullying, and the bullies need to be punished! -- and suicide has finally come out, with
more to come during the pre-trial and trial later in the year. A series of emails and phone calls and FB messages from from a Taiwan-based blogger helped push the story
to reflect a better view of what really happened. The blogger was just a mere news tipper. A go-between. The real investigative work was done by Emily Bazelon for Slate.

To learn more and help expose the Hollywood media arc, the blogger contacted top experts in America and found that they, too, were suspicious of the initial media stories.

However, being busy professors, with books to write and papers to publish, they didn't have time to spend pestering the U.S. news media to report change the narrative.. But the blogger in Taiwan found one good, sensitive, savvy reporter at Slate who was willing to expose the truth, and she did the hard work and heavy lifting. Bravo Emily!
Case closed? No, there's more to come.

How do I know all this? I was that blogger.

Posted by: 7788 | July 26, 2010 12:57 AM | Report abuse

The lone blogger story is an interesting new narrative. Someone came up with a sensational new, contrarian slant on a story, pushed it, Emily bought it, and voila a new story of right versus wrong with the roles reversed. The teens rule idea, which the school clearly had, is validated despite making the general point that all teens have underdeveloped moral and empathic senses and are mean as snakes. That is said to apply to everyone in every high school except people like Phoebe whose physical makeup dooms them to be defeated victims by the will of an evil universe.

Even Emily's story is a sad indictment of the adults in the town, its culture and the school. I am not sure how many people will buy Emily's conviction that this is every school in every town not a cruel anomaly.

When kids have their own rules and their own law which violates the law that have been passed by the legal system, the legal system must step in to validate itself. We can't accept as right a system where teens make their own rules and ignore society's rules. That is especially so by Emily's teen diminished capacity defense.

Posted by: DaveM62 | July 26, 2010 9:42 AM | Report abuse

@DaveM62, RE: "The lone blogger story is an interesting new narrative. Someone came up with a sensational new, contrarian slant on a story, pushed it, Emily bought it, and voila a new story of right versus wrong with the roles reversed."

Sir, Emily bought nothing. Emily was already aware of these issues and news tip before any lone blogger volunteered his info to her. The blogger, me, did not push a contrarian POV, he gently suggested that the Kevin Cullen let's cry for Phoebe meme was not the real story and that MSM was just following Cullen's wrong-headed yet warm-hearted lead. We do need warm hearts here. Phoebe was an angel. The bullies are not going to be let off and nobody is defending them here. Read Emily's piece again and see who's side she is really on. She's on the side of justice and what's right, not sensational Means Girl trivia. There WERE mean girls, yes, and boys, yes, and they will get their just desserts. But Phoebe on Earth was not such an angel we have now learned, more like a demon-plagued young man-child, er, woman-child, navigating a very confused world. There are now hints of domestic abuse in her young life, perhaps someone very close to her in her home life. Guess! And then guess why the mom not only separated from the father but took the girls far away across the seas. There is a very sad story here, sir. Wake up!

Posted by: 7788 | July 26, 2010 10:57 PM | Report abuse

The American public already has a lot of misconceptions about mental illness. Now we have a Yale educated lawyer, who writes well, pushing misconceptions that will make it even harder for depressed people by suggesting they deserve to be ridiculed and if they are driven to suicide the people doing that had nothing to do with it. Those who write well aren't necessarily expert about the things they claim to know about. No one would treat a person in physical pain the way Phoebe was treated or say making that pain worse could not possibly drive them to suicide. Yet mental pain is worse than physical pain.

Posted by: DaveM62 | July 27, 2010 1:30 AM | Report abuse

Things you won't learn from this account of "Emily Bazelon's rigorously reported piece in Slate":

* The key assertions in Emily Bazelon's story are based on nonpublic and presumably unlawfully leaked records, interviews with the defendants' families, interviews with the defendants' lawyers, and interviews with adults and students at South Hadley High who were granted anonymity. Except for the unnamed students, all these sources could be expected to be strongly pro-defendant.

* In characterizing Phoebe's torments, Bazelon refers at key points to what "many" students have told her, without ever telling us what the other students told her, e.g.: "What actually happened, in the eyes of many of the students I've talked to, is that Phoebe got into separate conflicts with different kids." This suggests the possibility that only one side of this story is being told.

* In describing defendant Flannery Mullins' interactions with Phoebe, Bazelon states that "there is one corroborated eyewitness account of Flannery and Phoebe interacting," although "other girls who implicated Flannery to the police gave secondhand descriptions of incidents they didn't see." It is unclear why Bazelon paases on uncorroborated pro-defendant statements but requires corroboration for statements that help the defense. Again, a pro-defendant bias is suggested.

* Only the defense and not the prosecution cooperated with Emily Bazelon, and defense counsel has endorsed her characterization of events.

* As other commenters here have noted, Emily Bazelon inexplicably ignores many widely reported pieces of evidence suggesting that a toxic climate of hatred and bullying existed at the school. Of course, it's tough to reconcile the defendants' reported celebrations of Phoebe Prince's suicide with Bazelon's story that the defendants were just normal kids doing normal kid things.

* Emily Bazelon has separately pursued research on cyberbullying that apparently has led her to the conclusion that criminal prosecution is not an appropriate response to bullying.

--> In all, the available evidence strongly suggests that Emily Bazelon, who is well-known as a writer and has a law degree, but who has negligible experience reporting news or practicing law, either was spun by the defense team or actively colluded with them to present a one-sided story, perhaps in order to avert a perceived injustice to the defendants or to serve larger policy goals relating to societal response to bullying.

Posted by: KellyStewart | July 27, 2010 3:32 AM | Report abuse

On Emily Bazelon's treatment of legal issues:

First of all, recall that although Emily Bazelon has a law degree from Yale, she is not and apparently never has been a practicing lawyer. Her sister, Lara Bazelon, has been and may still be a federal public defender. With that background:

* Emily Bazelon focuses almost exclusively on the charge of civil rights violation resulting in serious bodily harm. It seems pretty clear that the prosecution is alleging that the suicide is the serious bodily harm, so focusing on this charge allows Bazelon to focus attention on the weakest part of the case - the claim that the defendants are responsible for Phoebe's death. In so doing, Bazelon completely ignores the many other charges that *do not require causation of death,* including criminal harassment, stalking, and violation of civil rights not resulting in serious bodily injury (the last is a lesser included offense of what the defendants are charged with).

* Bazelon gives short shrift to the serious charge of statutory rape, which requires only proof that sex happened, given Phoebe's age. It appears that Sean Mulveyhill has confessed to this crime. Although many people think MA's statutory rape law is antiquated, that is irrelevant to the defendants' guilt.

* Stalking is broadly defined under MA law. Specifically, it is "(1) willfully and maliciously engag[ing] in a knowing pattern of conduct or series of acts over a period of time directed at a specific person which seriously alarms or annoys that person and would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress, and (2) mak[ing] a threat with the intent to place the person in imminent fear of death or bodily injury." The charging documents allege just such a pattern of activity.

* Criminal harassment is even more broadly defined. It covers "willfully and maliciously engag[ing] in a knowing pattern of conduct or series of acts over a period of time directed at a specific person, which seriously alarms that person and would cause a reasonable person to suffer substantial emotional distress." Again, the charging documents outline the commission of this offense.

* Turning to the civil rights charge, a simple civil rights violation - one without serious bodily harm - is a lesser included offense of the offense that has been charged. The defendants can be convicted of the lesser included offense even without proof of causation of death.

Posted by: KellyStewart | July 27, 2010 3:57 AM | Report abuse

On the issue of legal responsibility for Phoebe Prince's death:

* The "resulting in serious bodily harm" part of the statute in question may be satisfied by simple factual causation: If they hadn't bullied her, she wouldn't have killed herself that day. If so, the arguments that "she killed herself; no one else killed her" and "it's not foreseeable that anyone would kill herself just because she was bullied" would be irrelevant. The issue is what the legislature meant by its civil rights statute. By going directly to examples from homicide law, Bazelon ignores the antecedent question.

* It doesn't appear that the MA courts have ever addressed how to read the civil rights statute, but they have addressed the issue of legal responsibility for suicide. In 1978, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court held that someone who negligently got into a car crash with someone else was liable in wrongful death for the other party's suicide two months later. (Expert testimony had convinced the trial court that the accident caused the return of the victim's mental illness, which caused the suicide). Although this is a tort case and not a criminal case, it is more instructive than anything Bazelon cites because it actually comes from Massachusetts' highest court.

Posted by: KellyStewart | July 27, 2010 4:14 AM | Report abuse

Here is what someone posting under the name "E.J." who claims to be a writer who has been researching the facts on the ground in South Hadley has to say about Emily Bazelon's reporting. Note that I do not know "E.J." and do not vouch for the assertions herein.

E.J.'s account, part 1:


It’s clear to anyone who has researched this case – I’ve been interviewing people since January 15th throughout South Hadley – that Bazelon purposely chose NOT to include widely available and accessible information that might portray the bullies in a negative light (as if their actions weren’t enough).
She spoke to law professors who said “they couldn’t think of another case like this one. Scheibel’s decision to bring these charges was heavy-handed prosecutorial indiscretion.” She’s correct on the former and incorrect on the latter. There is no other case like this one, which is partly why it has become such a lightning rod. Interestingly, several lawyers and law professors I spoke with said this decision to move forward was a bell-weather moment, that they were thrilled that there will now hopefully be legal precedent to move against people that abuse other people. The other side of the coin that Bazelon refuses to acknowledge.
Bazelon mentions Darby O’Brien disputing “one fact in (her) story” but there were any number of incorrect facts. I earlier mentioned her portrayal of Sean as a good-hearted star athlete when the truth appears far from that. Her description of Pheobe’s father as a writer is also incorrect; he owns a small landscaping business, works hard, and enjoys having a “pint” with his friends at the pub in his small village (where people universally describe him as a nice guy).
Phoebe and some friends did have problems at the boarding school she attended in Limerick but a little further research would have uncovered that there were other, broader reasons than simply “dating older boys.” Phoebe’s boyfriend was in fact older, and according to friends, didn’t even attend the school. I was told by several people that the larger issues in Limerick were brought about by the fact that Phoebe was not Irish (her Mother was American and her father English), so she was routinely excluded from Irish school traditions like a form of “nick-naming” every student.
Another inaccuracy concerned her portrayal of Flannery Mullins; Bazelon clearly tried to minimize her involvement and leading readers to believe she did virtually nothing. First, according to students, she had a history of bullying students going back to middle school.

Posted by: KellyStewart | July 27, 2010 4:19 AM | Report abuse

A top expert in youth studies in the USA tells me:

"I read the entire Slate series by Ms Bazelon. Thanks for the heads ip. It does document -- for the umpteenth time -- that the standard news media good-evil melodrama (as in the Gloucester Massachusetts case a few years ago, too) inevitably turns out to be almost complete fiction as more complex details emerge.

It makes me suspect the next shoes to drop will be more detailed revelations of Phoebe's history of family abuses in Ireland and other severe difficulties long predating whatever abuses occurred in South Hadley [perhaps even incest?], as well as the much more complex interactions she had with Hadley students with provocations on both sides."

"I want to emphazies that I continue to have great sympathy for Phoebe, who was abused by many people over many years and developed serious problems as a result of the repeated failures of those around her to address them, and anger at a bullying prosecutor and media who want to act as if the whole problem was just some rotten alpha kids tormenting a sweetly "different" victim."

Posted by: 7788 | July 27, 2010 8:18 AM | Report abuse

Who is the "top expert in youth studies" and why does he or she wish to remain anonymous?
Is the explanation perhaps that he or she is an expert witness being paid by the defense?

In any event, the assertions about Phoebe's vulnerability seem irrelevant to the charges.

The key statutory language on the criminal harassment and stalking charges deals with how a *reasonable* person would react to the conduct, so the victim's vulnerability is irrelevant. The only victim-specific characteristic relevant to the statutory rape charge is age.

It is unclear exactly what "resulting in serious bodily harm" means, but the leading previous MA case on legal responsibility for another's suicide involved a person who had a serious pre-existing mental illness before ever coming in contact with the defendant. Vulnerability of the victim does not excuse the defendant from responsibility for suicide under MA law.

Speculating about Phoebe in this way has no bearing on the legal case and serves no legitimate purpose.

Posted by: KellyStewart | July 27, 2010 11:41 AM | Report abuse

I see people have started to censor this site to protect Emily from the free discussion of her ideas. That is unfortunate.

Posted by: DaveM62 | July 27, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

EMILY BAZELON IS FREE TO WRITE HER OPINIONS

JOURNALISTICALLY SPEAKING, it appears unbalanced to report Victim's pre-existing character w/o doing same for DEFENDANTS.

Reporting/Debunking these WITNESS / DOCUMENTED accounts is not remiss(?):

1- the 2 male DEF.s' HISTORIES re: dating other minor girls?

2- DEFs. Kayla Narey's & Ashley Longe* 's pre-existing (yrs-long) bully histories?

(* A.L. - lone DEF. charged with Assault w/Weapon - punched & slammed into locker a 2nd girl, Rebecca Br., in 2010)

3- DEFs. Flannery Mullins' & Sharon Chanon Velasquez's overheard threats & observed stalking . . .to the point that Victim walked BETW persons to avoid assault, per INDICTMENT/WITNESSES?

4- DEF. Sean Mulveyhill lost his football captaincy in Fall 2009 for yelling profanities at teammates, walking off field, AND for #5:

#5 - DEF. Mulveyhill arrested for shoplifting, Oct. 2009, Holyoke MA:

HOLYOKE POLICE DEPARTMENT
Public Daily Arrests Report - 10/23/2009 Page 9 of 23

Arrestee: MULVEYHILL, SEAN L
Age: 17
Time of Arrest: 2:53 PM
Address: 107 LYMAN SOUTH HADLEY , MA
Arrest Location: 50 HOLYOKE ST
W/M
Charge Ch. 266 Sect. 30A SHOPLIFTING BY CONCEALING MDSE
(Family member N.M. also arrested on shoplifting...but details excluded here)

Posted by: CitizenOfWorld | July 27, 2010 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Should there be a kid culture which is in conflict with our culture? If 17 and 18 year olds are still in the kid culture, when and how do they transition out of it?

Posted by: DaveM62 | July 28, 2010 12:21 AM | Report abuse

Kelley Steward, re: "Who is the "top expert in youth studies" and why does he or she wish to remain anonymous? Is the explanation perhaps that he or she is an expert witness being paid by the defense?"

No, he/she is NOT anywhere NEAR the defense and has NOTHING to do with them, he/she is a personal friend of mine. He/she is called anonymous because he/she did not write that note to me for public consumption. But i felt it was worth sharing.

Kelly, not everyone who takes a different view than you is on the defense team or on their side. I am on PP's side. I told you a thousand times. Why can't you see this?

Posted by: 7788 | July 28, 2010 12:50 AM | Report abuse

btw, the Gazette in Northampton Mass has a good editorial or oped titled "In Our Opinion: Awaiting a court's clarity" but i cannot read it online it is behind a firewall pay wall. can anyone it find it post the best parts of it. It takes PP
s side for sure.

Posted by: 7788 | July 28, 2010 12:51 AM | Report abuse

"The real work of addressing the culture of cruelty at the school in South Hadley should take place among parents and teachers, but early steps in that direction were cut short by the prosecution of those who are charged in the bullying case."

Emily and the people she interviewed do not agree that there was a culture of cruelty at the school and that the kids were cruel kids. So they won't fix it themselves without outside intervention which is where law enforcement comes in.

Posted by: DaveM62 | July 28, 2010 12:25 PM | Report abuse

This can be talked over, argued and worded differently from one person to the next forever and nothing will change or ever be fixed for our kids. I applaud those here defending Phoebe. I can't agree with the stage this article is trying to set BUT-

It boils down to human decency in people. These kids - whether this girl had been abused in the past or not, whether to them she was different or not, whether she was new to the school or not, whether she dated the exboyfriend of one of the girls or not - did not have the right to treat this girl the way they did. And there are thousands of similar stories in every school across our country where this goes on every day it is not an isolated case. IT IS WRONG (PERIOD). Until our school administrators start requiring that each student has the obligation to treat the other with common respect in our school hallways - no matter what their differences are(wheter it be looks, talent, body size, clothes styles . . .) - then these types of suicide cases will continue in our young people who have softer and more gentle types of personalities. If they get to the point that they can't take it anymore (and are not getting the help to learn to deal with it from our school counselors)then they may feel pushed to stop the pain. The angrier types of personalities will resort to school shootings and the list can go on. Again this is not just one isolated case - it's going on because we have a system that is failing our kids. Our schools have to start admitting it's a HUGE problem that a large majority of our kids today don't feel they have to show respect to others around them - then these types of news headlines will continue. It's sad and tragic and all the arguing of different points of view on this will not save the life of the next kid that will fall victim to what society wants to ignore.

I don't mean to start anything with any of the other people posting here so please don't take it that way. I just feel that this so drasticly needs to be addressed by society and all that seems to happen is talk. The best thing that could happen to our country's future is to figure out a way to stop this disrepect in our kids

If people really want to fix anything here - then we need to get our school administators, parents, coaches, teachers and students to start shutting this down the second it starts in our school hallways. I know everyone had someone try to bully them in their past and can relate to how that felt. Imagine if it gets to the point that you think you have no power to stop it. Well - we all have the power but we have to stand together and make it the common goal to stop this type of bullying before the individuals form a 'pack' that leads to the death of a beautiful girl in this case. Don't let her death get lost in the arguments - please schools let it be the beginning of a desperate change we need to make happen for the sake of all our kids that use the public school systems.

Posted by: dakmem | July 28, 2010 9:25 PM | Report abuse

Please 7788 - you are a writer - take what I am trying to say and write another article and another and another if you have to. Help the rest of us get our school's attention that we have to do something. I would like to think that Phoebe's angel would lead the way in a revolution across America to stop school bullying. Instead of talking about the negative past that might have been - use your writing abilities to plaster articles that get the attention of people everywhere who want to stop this kind of thing. We lost this beautiful girl and many others like her across our great country - they all have stories but hashing each story over won't change what happened. Doing something about the problem will. I'm done posting here - I've said all I can say on the matter. I hope each reader takes this with the heart it's intended - a heart of hope we can make a change not a spirit of wanting to argue the points. If this writer truly wants to honor Phoebe's angel - then this is the route to use. But it will take people all across the country on the same page before a change can happen.

Posted by: dakmem | July 28, 2010 9:39 PM | Report abuse

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