Who Failed Phoebe Prince?

High school was hell for 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, but it didn’t have to be deadly.

By Alyssa Giacobbe | Boston Magazine |

School “has been close to intolerable lately,” Phoebe texted a friend the next week. By now it was Wednesday, January 13. Phoebe told her friend she’d been accused of “taking away” another girl’s boyfriend, that the threats were getting physical, and that even Sean and his friends wouldn’t leave her alone. She had been to see the SHHS adjustment counselor, Sally Watson-Menkel, as well as the school nurse.

The following day in the school library, Phoebe looked up to see Ashley, Kayla, and Sean across the room. Ashley loudly taunted her while the reunited couple made a big show of groping and kissing, authorities say. Beside Phoebe’s name on the library sign-in sheet, someone had penciled in “Irish bitch…is a cunt.”

After school, Phoebe walked past a group of students who’d gathered outside the auditorium. They buzzed with end-of-day energy and talked about the school’s winter cotillion, which was scheduled for Saturday night. “Here she comes,” Sean reportedly told Ashley, nodding in Phoebe’s direction. “Whore,” Ashley allegedly shouted on cue as Phoebe passed. The crowd fell silent. “Whore,” Sean said. Ashley said, “Why don’t you just open your legs?” Kayla started to laugh. Phoebe kept on moving.

Home was a half-mile away, along well-trafficked Newton Street. Just beyond school grounds, a car slowed alongside Phoebe as she walked. From the passenger seat, authorities say Ashley hurled an empty energy-drink can. Phoebe, crying, kept walking. “Whore!” Ashley yelled, as the car sped off.

AROUND 4:30 P.M., Lauren Prince, 12, came home from school to find Phoebe hanging by a scarf from a beam in the apartment’s stairwell, dressed in the clothes she’d worn to school. The orange scarf was the one Lauren had given Phoebe for Christmas.

“When I first found out, I didn’t know how to react. I was in shock,” says Katie, who had last seen Phoebe only hours earlier, at her locker. “See you tomorrow,” Phoebe had said.

Yet Katie understood Phoebe’s unhappiness: She, too, had been bullied at school and knew the feeling of “everybody hating on us; that’s why we were so close.” She says, “At South Hadley, for me it was hell,” and describes being verbally attacked and slammed against lockers. “We could talk about the same thing…. I knew things were not good [with Phoebe], but I didn’t know really how bad they were.”

Phoebe’s enemies didn’t share Katie’s despair. The word around town is that upon hearing the news, one of them merely laughed. Sharon was later overheard saying that she wasn’t the only one who caused Phoebe to kill herself, authorities say, and actually, she didn’t care that Phoebe was dead. Some were seen making gestures that mimicked hanging from a noose.

  • Mark

    Forty years ago, I was bullied in elementary school but it was neither organized nor nearly as intense as what Phoebe endured. Despite falling crime rates, today’s society is far more coarse and dangerous. The students who bullied Phoebe to her death, which they then celebrated, are criminal psychopaths who are probably beyond redemption. Though young, they knew exactly what they were doing and deserve stiff prison sentences. In a sort of karmic justice, the bullies and their families have now been intensely bullied. This, too, is wrong. There’s plenty of blame to go around here, from negligent parents to clueless administrators. Having a well-developed policy of identifying this behavior early on, protecting the victim, and punishing and educating bullies in civilized behavior, is the key to eradicating this scourge. It shouldn’t even be called “bullying”; it is potentially deadly, emotional torture as evil as serial killing. And, bullies, make no mistake: you may be riding high now, but in the long run, your lives will be at least as miserable as those of your victims.

  • Mark

    A lawyer for the bully-torturers has adopted a blame-the-victim strategy, suggesting that Phoebe was indeed a tramp who was previously suicidal. This behavior violates canons of professional legal ethics and should have gone out of style after Alton Maddox and Vernon Mason were disbarred for using these tactics in an infamous rape case many years ago.

  • JM

    Amazing how the young men at this school played the women. These mean girls were mad at the wrong person and now must live with this tragedy. It’s never worth killing yourself, or hurting others, over a boy, ladies. These guys are rotten players. Nice work Boston mag in getting to the heart of the matter.

  • Doreen

    So the parent should have spoken out… Well I did when my children were being bullied in a Rhode Island school and nothing was done about it. I ended spending my life savings to send my children to

  • Doreen

    So the parent should have spoken out… Well I did when my children were being bullied in a Rhode Island school and nothing was done about it. I ended spending my life savings to send my children to

  • Shawna

    Dr. Susan Spinks, now Dr. Susan Topper was relentlessly bullied at UMass Medical School by 3 doctors, including Dr. Carol Waksmonski and Dr. Peter Levine. The bullying was a mobbing event to scapegoat her for bad patient results that were due to the malpractice of the intern and supervising physicians. She had to take time off and nearly killed herself.

    This malignant medical climate is what you pay for with your money and your lives. Stop workplace bullying and mobbing at UMass Medical Center.

  • Shawna

    Dr. Susan Spinks, now Dr. Susan Topper was relentlessly bullied at UMass Medical School by 3 doctors, including Dr. Carol Waksmonski and Dr. Peter Levine. The bullying was a mobbing event to scapegoat her for bad patient results that were due to the malpractice of the intern and supervising physicians. She had to take time off and nearly killed herself.

    This malignant medical climate is what you pay for with your money and your lives. Stop workplace bullying and mobbing at UMass Medical Center.

  • Shawna

    Dr. Susan Spinks, now Dr. Susan Topper was relentlessly bullied at UMass Medical School by 3 doctors, including Dr. Carol Waksmonski and Dr. Peter Levine. The bullying was a mobbing event to scapegoat her for bad patient results that were due to the malpractice of the intern and supervising physicians. She had to take time off and nearly killed herself.

    This malignant medical climate is what you pay for with your money and your lives. Stop workplace bullying and mobbing at UMass Medical Center.

  • Lesley

    Reading this article brought back so many painful memories. I grew up in Pennsylvania and was bullied in junior high because I didn’t “fit the mold.” I agree with the comment below..negligent parents and clueless administrators are partly to blame! If I had a nickel for every teacher that chose to look the other way while I was harassed by classmates…
    I’m now living in the San Francisco Bay Area and after reading this article all I can think of is, ‘thank God my kids are surrounded by well-educated, first generation immigrants and thriving in a school culture with tolerance and diversity at its very core.”