Was Phoebe Prince once a bully?

The new world of online cruelty.
Aug. 17 2010 7:37 AM

Was Phoebe Prince Once a Bully?

Did her school in Ireland turn a blind eye to early warnings of her troubles?

Read the rest of Emily Bazelon's  series on cyberbullying

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Dissatisfied, Gwen's mother wrote to the Irish Department of Education and Science, which sent an inquiry to Villiers. In response, the school finally called a meeting in November with Gwen's mother. But by then, she and her husband had enrolled their daughter in a different school. Phoebe had also left Villiers. When Phoebe's mother explained to the South Hadley police the cutting that precipitated Phoebe's exit from the school, she named two girls who Phoebe had told her "were at her every night." One of them was her former ally, Heather—another reminder of how quickly teenage roles and allegiances can shift.

Though her daughter was no longer a student, Gwen's mother attended the November meeting at Villiers out of concern about the school's handling of the bullying and its policies. At the meeting, she said a school official read aloud a copy of a letter Phoebe had written, in which she apologized for bringing Villiers into disrepute. "The only kid whose parents told her to apologize was Phoebe Prince," Gwen's mother said. "That's really important. She was the kid who stood up and said, I did something wrong." Gwen's mother says she expressed concern about Phoebe at the meeting. "I sat in front of the board of governors at Villiers and the principal and vice principal and I said, This child has mental health difficulties. She is at risk. I'm not just trying to make a noise about this because my child is a victim of her bullying. I'm saying this because we won't eradicate bullying until we support the bullies and the witnesses." In his statement to me, Hardy said, "the mother never brought anything to the attention of the school about real mental health problems for Phoebe."

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When she looks back on all of this, Gwen feels a terrible sense of loss over Phoebe's death. "Every time I think about her being gone, it makes me sad and I'm not angry at her at all," she said, her voice breaking. "When I found out, I was expecting to be really angry and to think, I don't care. But I do care. Because I was really close to her. That's the bit that hurt most, when it all happened. We would have said we were best friends."

For Gwen's mother, the grief is mixed with a sense of missed opportunity. "I utterly empathize with Phoebe's parents," she says. "My whole reason for saying what I've said is not to come down on Phoebe. The point is that Phoebe needed support, and the people who were there at Villiers to give it to her didn't do that. They are culpable, not the kids who are facing criminal charges in South Hadley."

Hardy responded, "Villiers school is entirely satisfied with its efforts, work, and approach to both girls when they were students with us." Perhaps that helps explain the problems Phoebe and Gwen had there.

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