Who Failed Phoebe Prince?

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

Sayer, whose 14-year run as Amherst’s school superintendent ended amid controversy involving a principal accused of making inappropriate comments to a young male student, was on vacation at the time of Scheibel’s announcement. Weeks later, he said the DA’s investigation “was, of course, more extensive and had access to resources not available to the schools, especially messages left behind on Phoebe’s cell phone and Facebook pages, along with comments made upon them by students.” Yet Scheibel has said one of the more significant challenges her team faced was the “inexplicable lack of cooperation from Internet service providers, in particular Facebook and Craigslist.” In any case, she said, while social media played a part, the assault on Phoebe largely represented old-fashioned, in-your-face bullying.

Since Phoebe’s death Sayer has received hundreds of angry e-mails, he says. Death threats, too. Facebook groups like “I Do Not Support Superintendent Gus Sayer” and “We Want Resignations” have appeared. “These guys can’t handle tough situations,” says Darby O’Brien, the Prince family friend. “If this had been a prominent kid, a well-connected family, they’d have canceled that dance. But she was what the Irish call a come-over. I think they just thought, ‘This will go away.’” (Sayer says the winter cotillion went on as planned because it was too late to cancel.)

The harshest backlash has been reserved for the accused bullies. Lawyers for Kayla and Sharon say their clients have been the subject of physical and verbal threats. “Sean Mulveyhill Is a Coward Piece of Shit” is a Facebook group that at press time, in early May, had 1,494 fans — twice the size of the entire student body at South Hadley High. For a few weeks, an anonymous cybervigilante maintained websites in the accused girls’ names, their school photos appearing above statements like “This is a piece of shit, bullying whore who should not be walking this earth. I hope someday she has a daughter and everyone bullies her to death. See how she likes it. If you see this worthless piece of crap on the streets, throw things at her, spit on her, call her names, give her back what she has been dealing to others.”

The defendants’ attorneys, meanwhile, are looking at Phoebe. Terrence Dunphy, the Springfield lawyer representing Austin, has filed a motion requesting the names of any physicians, psychologists, or rape counselors Phoebe saw, or any details of prior allegations of rape or sexual abuse. O’Brien has alleged that Sayer told people Phoebe tried to kill herself in Ireland (Sayer denies this), and that a female teacher was overheard telling colleagues at a conference that Phoebe had tried to slit her wrists and had slept with the entire football team. At one point Governor Deval Patrick told a radio station that in the case of Phoebe Prince, “the adults don’t seem to have acted like adults.”

  • 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.”