"An Acknowledgement of Wrongdoing"
Two of the teens charged in connection with Phoebe Prince's suicide resolve their cases—and receive light penalties.
Read the rest of Emily Bazelon's series on cyberbullying.
Her voice breaking at several points, O'Brien began: "It is nearly impossible to measure the impact of Phoebe's death upon our lives. How do you measure a future loss?" She continued, "As I said goodbye to Phoebe at the crematorium, and held her in her coffin for the last time, my little girl who was so full of life was now so cold. I thought, 'What am I going to do?' There is a dead weight that sits in my chest. It's an unbearable pain and will sit with me until my own death. It is torture."
O'Brien then turned her attention to Mulveyhill. "Phoebe trusted Sean Mulveyhill to take care of her, to guide her through the maze of South Hadley High School. I can only imagine the pain she felt at his unrelenting desire to harass and humiliate her. Sean and I both know I was lied to about the true nature of his relationship with Phoebe. If I'd known, I would have viewed his relationship with my daughter as predatory and I would have forbade her to see him."
O'Brien said that Mulveyhill "set out to humiliate" Prince "and destroy her spirit." She recounted one of Prince's final text messages, in which she wrote to a male friend: "I think Sean condoning this is one of the final nails in my coffin. I can't take much more. It would be easier if he or any one of them, handed me a noose."
"Why could he never have stepped back to see the pain he was causing her?" O'Brien asked. "Where was his empathy?"
O'Brien spoke for a second time during Narey's hearing, which followed Mulveyhill's guilty plea. In addressing Narey's case, O'Brien said, "Phoebe found the courage and compassion to seek out Kayla Narey and apologize to her when she discovered Sean had lied to her. Kayla had the opportunity to be a true leader of the school community and put a stop to Phoebe's torment. Instead, she was too weak of character to match Phoebe's courage."
O'Brien also said that at an earlier point, Narey said to a friend, "If Phoebe is so suicidal, why hasn't she killed herself already?" "Kayla Narey is not capable of compassion even to those she is aware of who are suffering," O'Brien concluded. "Why did Kayla not find the courage and compassion to help Phoebe?"
It was an enormously sad moment, and people blinked back tears all over the small, packed courtroom. And yet O'Brien said yes when Judge C. Jeffrey Kinder asked her if she supported the joint recommendation of the prosecution and defense to resolve the charges against Mulveyhill and Narey with probation. When Judge Kinder asked Gagne to explain his agreement to drop the remaining charges, Gagne said, "The core concern, your honor, of the family and to a large extent the D.A.'s office, was an acknowledgement of wrongdoing."
Gagne said that Mulveyhill provided that by pleading guilty. Narey matched O'Brien's emotion in the apology she read in a quiet, shaking voice.
"Your honor, I would like to extend my heartfelt sorrow and apology to the Prince family, and more importantly, to Phoebe," Narey said. "My parents instilled in me to be kind and considerate and generous to others. For most of my life, I have been able to fulfill that. Unfortunately, during a time in high school, my relationship with my boyfriend became the priority over my core values. My behavior toward Phoebe during this time was unacceptable."
Emily Bazelon is a Slate senior editor and writes about law, family, and kids. Her forthcoming book, Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Empathy and Character. Find her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook or Twitter.
Undated family photograph of Phoebe Prince, 15.