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 |

Sayer soon revised this, but only slightly. “School administrators first learned of the bullying by one group of students on January 7 and then acted immediately to discipline those students,” he said in an April 14 press release. “Unfortunately, the school administrators did not learn of bullying by a second group of students until after Phoebe’s death. Tragically, Phoebe Prince herself did not make known to school officials the full extent of the bullying that was tormenting her.” His attempts at clarification came only after Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel indicted Ashley, Sean, Kayla, Flannery, Austin, and Sharon on felonies that could send them to prison; she called their behavior toward Phoebe “conduct [that] far exceeded the limits of normal teenage relationship-related quarrels.”

Meanwhile, Phoebe was still under attack. A “We Murdered Phoebe Prince” page appeared on Facebook, her photograph altered to show knives plunged into her eyes. And until Facebook removed it, her own personal page accumulated sinister comments such as “she deserved it” and “mission accomplished.” On Craigslist, someone wrote, “If she fucked two boys in 2 months at fifteen, she was a slut. Who here thinks that was a good idea?” Empowered by anonymity, haters had found a way to bully even a dead girl.

WHAT SAYER AND HIS ADMINISTRATORS have failed to acknowledge is how incredibly difficult it can be for a victimized student to come forward at all. The appearance of tattling can anger bullies further and encourage retaliation, says Coloroso. Often, a victim is embarrassed to admit to parents or teachers that he or she is not liked. Mitch Brouillard, Becky’s father, says his daughter had endured bullying for a long time before she would admit it. “She was always an A student, but we saw that declining,” he says. “We kept asking her what was wrong, but she was reluctant to tell us.”

Ultimately, Brouillard learned Becky was bullied “relentlessly” for various reasons, including being friends with a boy another girl liked and, later, for speaking out in the aftermath of Phoebe’s death. Fake Facebook profiles were created in her name. “We went through the days of ‘I’m sick, I’m not going to school,’ and I now have a guilty feeling about pushing her to go,” Brouillard says, “like I was offering her up almost as [a] sacrifice.”

He’s hoping for stricter penalties and is glad schools are starting to keep better records of bullying incidents. And while the student who slammed his daughter against the locker that day was suspended, Brouillard takes little comfort. “I am disturbed,” he admits. “If this didn’t happen to Phoebe, would my daughter’s harassment have been recognized? I’m not so confident it would have.”

  • 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.”