Authorities say 15 girls are under investigation for possibly driving 12-year-old Florida girl Rebecca Ann Sedwick to suicide after more than a year of cyber bullying.
If the Polk County Sheriff’s Office finds evidence that the girls violated Florida’s new anti-bullying law, charges such as cyber stalking may be filed, the Lakeland Ledger reported Thursday.
“If we can get any evidence of a criminal offense, the person or persons involved will be punished,” Sheriff Grady Judd told the paper.
Rebecca was found dead early Tuesday morning, when investigators believe she jumped off an industrial building in Lakeland. The 12-year-old was first reported missing Monday night.
There were strong indications that Rebecca committed suicide due to being bullied online. Social media applications on her phone showed messages like “Go kill yourself” and “Why are you still alive?” the Ledger reported.
As many as 15 girls may have been involved in the bullying that led to Rebecca’s suicide, according to the Orlando Sentinel.
The investigation found that Rebecca conducted online searches that included “How many over-the-counter drugs do you take to die?” and “How many Advil do you take to die.”
Judd told the Sentinel that the school system and law enforcement were not responsible for Rebecca’s suicide. Instead, he blamed “middle-school drama,” the paper reported.
“Girls can get pretty catty as kids," Judd said. “The system cannot manage all that cattiness. … I truly believe the school system tried, but we don't live in a perfect world."
Rebecca’s death was senseless, her uncle said during a vigil for the 12-year-old girl held on Wednesday.
"We've lost a beautiful child that had a bright future. For what reason? To be bullied?" the uncle said, according to CBS affiliate WTSP. "Why? 'Cause your clothes are better than hers? Your shoes look better than hers?"
Her family said Rebecca had been tormented by online bullies for about a year. They told the Lakeland television station that they had her switch schools, closed down her Facebook account and used other tactics to stop the bullying, including complaining to the staff at Crystal Lake Middle School. But the bullying continued, WTSP reported. Authorities said it may have started over a boyfriend.
“We're trying to sort out a bunch of girl talk that goes further than girl talk,” Judd told the Ledger.
The sheriff’s office described Rebecca as being “beat down,” saying their investigation also turned up photos of the girl with razor blades and resting her head on railroad tracks, according to the Ledger.
The paper said Rebecca gave hints that she would kill herself the night before she committed suicide, but the warning signs were never relayed to authorities.
She reportedly messaged a boy from North Carolina she met through social media and told him, “I’m jumping, I can’t take it anymore,” just hours before she committed suicide. Other signs included her changing her Kik Messenger name to “That Dead Girl.”
The girls under investigation may face felony charges if there’s sufficient evidence, Judd said, noting that they would face felonies because Rebecca was under 16.
“If you bully somebody online and it's reported to us and we can build a credible case, we will charge you,” he said.