Phoebe Prince's father speaks out for the first time since his daughter's death.

The new world of online cruelty.
July 29 2010 1:10 PM

Talking to Phoebe Prince's Father

Jeremy Prince speaks out for the first time since his daughter's death.

Read the rest of Emily Bazelon's  series on cyberbullying

Phoebe Prince. Click image to expand.
Phoebe Prince

Jeremy Prince would like to forgive the teenagers who are facing criminal charges for bullying his daughter before her suicide last January.

Emily Bazelon Emily Bazelon

Emily Bazelon is a staff writer at the New York Times Magazine and the author of Sticks and Stones

We talked on Wednesday, over the phone, in the first interview either of Phoebe's parents has given since their daughter's death. Prince wanted to tell me about his impression of Phoebe when he visited South Hadley a few weeks before she died. He said it did not match the picture of her as distressed that he thought I painted in a piece I wrote last week. I reported that Phoebe had made a previous suicide attempt when she overdosed in mid-November on the antipsychotic medication Seroquel. (She went into organ failure, according to a school counselor, and was hospitalized for a week.) Jeremy Prince said that while the overdose was a "call for help," he doesn't think of it as a suicide attempt, "though that's open to interpretation."

When Prince saw his daughter in December, he did not think she was depressed. "That's not the girl I saw when I was there for three weeks, by any means," he said. "She was making snowmen, trying on her dress for the cotillion, asking 'Daddy, does this go with this top?' My wife and I had bought a house. Phoebe commandeered the cellar. She wanted me to partition it so she could decorate. It was that sort of Christmas."

Prince said that Phoebe was not taking medication in the weeks before she died. "She hadn't had any Seroquel for over a month," he said. She was seeing a therapist, he explained, who gave him and his wife a written report saying she was at no risk of suicide. "This was when she went back to school in January. But we all know what happened."

Phoebe's suicide took place on Jan. 14, about two weeks after Prince had to leave South Hadley to return to Ireland, where he is a gardener in County Clare. "What I didn't see was Phoebe in school," he acknowledges. "Perhaps if I had, that would have made a big difference. It is the great tragedy of my life that I was not there." It's a regret any parent can understand.

Advertisement

Prince said he and his daughter talked often, about "sex and drugs and everything under the sun. Except there was one thing we couldn't talk about. That was the bullying." It is bullying, of course, that's at the heart of the case against five teenagers who are facing charges that blame them directly for Phoebe's death. The most serious charge they face is the offense civil rights violation with bodily injury, which carries a 10-year maximum prison sentence. Defense lawyers expect District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel to argue that Phoebe's civil rights were violated because she was called an "Irish slut"—a denigration of her national origin—and because the bullying interfered with her right to an education. The bodily injury, the defense lawyers say, is Phoebe's death by suicide. The teens are also charged with other crimes, including criminal harassment and stalking. A sixth student has been charged only with statutory rape. All six have pleaded not guilty.

About the pending charges, Prince said, "That's the district attorney's department." But he distanced himself from any effort to "make an example" of the kids who have been charged. "If someone is punished disproportionately to what they've done, that would be wrong," he said. Prince recognizes, too, that the six kids played different roles. "It is far more complicated, I realize. There are levels of culpability among the kids. You want to see the law acknowledged, and reasonable penalties, but without making an example of them. You want to take their ages into account. There will always be younger ones who go with the flow and join in."

This is a much more temperate position than the one taken by people who say that "Justice for Phoebe" means sending all the kids to prison. Jeremy Prince lost the real Phoebe, not an idea of her, but he is not ready to subscribe to the view that such harsh punishment is necessarily warranted, though he said he will wait to see what the court decides. What he wants, he said, is an apology from the kids he believes hurt his daughter. "I'd dearly like to see admission and contrition, so that I could forgive," Prince said at the end of our conversation. * "If they confessed to the court and said they were sorry, I'd appeal to the court for total leniency. You can go two ways. You can look to the court for revenge or you can look for leniency. The latter path is mine."

Correction, July 30, 2010: Because the writer didn't quite hear Prince right, the sentence previously misstated part of his quote as "mission of contrition" instead of "admission and contrition." (Return  to the corrected sentence.)

Like  Slate and Bull-E on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Congress’ Public Shaming of the Secret Service Was Political Grandstanding at Its Best

Michigan’s Tradition of Football “Toughness” Needs to Go—Starting With Coach Hoke

A Plentiful, Renewable Resource That America Keeps Overlooking

Animal manure.

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Building a Better Workplace

You Deserve a Pre-cation

The smartest job perk you’ve never heard of.

Hasbro Is Cracking Down on Scrabble Players Who Turn Its Official Word List Into Popular Apps

Florida State’s New President Is Underqualified and Mistrusted. He Just Might Save the University.

  News & Politics
Jurisprudence
Sept. 30 2014 2:36 PM This Court Erred The Supreme Court has almost always sided with the wealthy, the privileged, and the powerful, a new book argues.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 7:02 PM At Long Last, eBay Sets PayPal Free
  Life
Lexicon Valley
Sept. 30 2014 1:23 PM What Can Linguistics Tell Us About Writing Better? An Interview with Steven Pinker.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 30 2014 12:34 PM Parents, Get Your Teenage Daughters the IUD
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Sept. 30 2014 3:21 PM Meet Jordan Weissmann Five questions with Slate’s senior business and economics correspondent.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 30 2014 8:54 PM Bette Davis Talks Gender Roles in a Delightful, Animated Interview From 1963
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:00 PM There’s Going to Be a Live-Action Tetris Movie for Some Reason
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 30 2014 6:44 PM Ebola Was Already Here How the United States contains deadly hemorrhagic fevers.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.