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.”