Who Failed Phoebe Prince?
High school was hell for 15-year-old Phoebe Prince, but it didn’t have to be deadly.
Reporting bullies requires a level of trust between students and their teachers and administrators; fostering that trust and maintaining a safe environment is the responsibility of the many adults in the school, whether they directly witness violations or not. Some parents have questioned the role of Todd Dineen, the plainclothes cop whose job is described as the liaison among the police department, schools, and courts. South Hadley police Chief David LaBrie says Dineen was not made aware of any bullying activity regarding Phoebe.
Dineen maintains an office in the high school and divides his time among there, the middle school, and the elementary schools; sometimes, he’s required to appear in court. Dineen says he was friendly with Phoebe, but that she never reported problems with classmates. He believes she would have felt comfortable enough with him to do so. “Whenever I saw her, she had people around her,” he says. “Some kids you see sitting alone in the lunchroom and it just breaks your heart. She wasn’t like that.” Dineen also says kids often use language with one another that, as a father of two daughters, he finds inappropriate. “You hear one girl saying, ‘Hey, bitch,’ to another and you stop them and they say, ‘Oh, no, it’s okay — we’re friends.’”
Paul Mihalik, a retired Holyoke cop who lives next to SHHS, says that three years ago he went to the principal to voice his concerns about the behavior he saw in kids who passed by his house. They were rough with one another; they littered. And the language: Shit this, and fuck that. One kid put a used condom in his mailbox. “Principal Smith said he had very little time for me,” Mihalik says. “He said he’d get back to me, but he never did.”
For Phoebe’s friend Katie, the bullying got so bad that she says she, too, considered suicide. “Phoebe told me nothing was worth taking my life over,” she says. “We were like sisters going through the same things, but Phoebe was the strong one.” Katie says administrators knew she was being targeted — “I went to them crying” — but did nothing. She now attends a different school.
TWO AND A HALF MONTHS after Phoebe’s death, the felony indictments came down. Sean and Kayla, both 17, and Austin, 18, will be tried as adults, while 16-year-old Ashley, Flannery, and Sharon will be tried as juveniles. Sean faces charges of statutory rape, violation of civil rights, criminal harassment, and disturbance of school assembly. Kayla: violation of civil rights, criminal harassment, and disturbance of school assembly. Austin: statutory rape. Ashley: violation of civil rights. Flannery and Sharon: violation of civil rights and stalking. All have denied the charges.
“The investigation revealed relentless activity directed toward Phoebe designed to humiliate her and to make it impossible for her to remain at school,” Scheibel said in a press conference. She called the actions or inactions of some adults at South Hadley “troublesome,” but not criminal. While Principal Smith’s investigation is now complete, which means that any punishments coming from the school have been doled out, Scheibel’s is still under way.