Nine teens indicted in connection with suicide of Irish high school pupil

 

ON THE last day of her short life, Phoebe Prince was taunted in the school library, in the canteen and corridors. Students at South Hadley High in western Massachusetts called the 15-year-old pupil an “Irish slut”.

The bullying had gone on for three months and Phoebe could not escape it. After school hours, it continued with text messages on her cell phone and postings on the social website Facebook.

As she walked home from school on January 14th, along the white picket fences on Newton Street, one of her female tormentors drove by and threw an energy drink can at her.

Phoebe went into the family home she shared with her mother, Anne O’Brien Prince, a brother and three sisters. She plugged her cell phone into a charger – presumably to provide investigators with evidence of her torment – went into a closet and hanged herself. She was found by her 12-year-old sister Lauren.

On Monday, Elizabeth Scheibel, the district attorney, announced that six teenagers – four girls and two boys aged 16-18 – had been indicted in connection with Phoebe’s suicide on criminal charges of statutory rape, assault, violation of civil rights resulting in injury, harassment, disturbance of a school assembly and stalking.

In Massachusetts, 16 is the legal age of adulthood. Six of Phoebe’s nine tormentors are charged with felonies. Three unnamed juveniles also face charges.

Phoebe was born in Bedford, England, but her family moved to Fanore, Co Clare, when she was two. They moved to South Hadley last September “so that Phoebe could experience America”, her family wrote in a death notice.

“Here she touched many lives with her Irish mannerisms and sense of humour,” it added.

In October, Phoebe, who was a freshman, had a date with Sean Mulveyhill, the 17-year-old captain of the football team and a senior.

He had sex with her, discarded her and did not defend her when his former girlfriend, a popular, athletic, pretty girl mobilised her coterie of friends to torment the new girl.

Phoebe later dated Austin Renaud (18), who is also charged with statutory rape.

The charge sheet against Mulveyhill is the lengthiest: statutory rape, violation of civil rights, criminal harassment and disturbance of a school assembly.

Two days after Phoebe’s suicide, South Hadley High nonetheless held its winter cotillion or débutante ball.

“If it had been a kid who grew up in that town, there’s no way they would have held their dance,” says Kevin Cullen, a columnist with the Boston Globewho has written eloquently about the case. “She was an outsider.”

There is a large Irish immigrant community in western Massachusetts; most of the teenagers who called Phoebe an “Irish slut” have Irish names themselves.

The same sentiment was expressed by one of Phoebe’s fellow students, Ashlee Dunn (16). “She was new and she was from a different country and she didn’t really know the school very well. I think that’s probably one reason why they chose Phoebe,” Dunn told the New York Times.

School authorities have been criticised for ignoring the bullying of Phoebe Prince, which they treated as a routine date-related quarrel.

Ms Scheibel, the district attorney who filed the criminal charges against the youths after a 10-week investigation, said the behaviour of those charged “far exceeded the limits of normal teenage relationship-related quarrels . . .

“The investigation revealed relentless activities directed towards Phoebe, designed to humiliate her and to make it impossible for her to stay at school.”

After her funeral, Phoebe’s family said they would “grieve the loss of the incandescent enthusiasm of a life blossoming”.

Her family decided to bury her in Co Clare. As journalist Cullen put it, “they wanted an ocean between her and the people who hounded her to the grave”.