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Jamey Rodemeyer Suicide: Police Consider Criminal Bullying Charges

22 Sep

PHOTO: Jamey Rodemeyer, 14, was found dead outside his home of an apparent suicide.

Police have opened a criminal investigation in the suicide death of Buffalo, N.Y., 14-year-old Jamey Rodemeyer, who was bullied online with gay slurs for more than a year.

The teen’s parents, friends and even Lady Gaga, who was his idol, have expressed outrage about what they say was relentless torment on social networking websites.

The Amherst Police Department’s Special Victims Unit has said it will determine whether to charge some students with harassment, cyber-harassment or hate crimes. Police said three students in particular might have been involved. Jamey was a student at Heim Middle School.

Jamey had just started his freshman year at Williamsville North High School. (Both Amherst and Williamsville are just outside Buffalo.) But the bullying had begun during middle school, according to his parents. He had told family and friends that he had endured hateful comments in school and online, mostly related to his sexual orientation.

Jamey was found dead outside his home Sunday morning, but Amherst police would not release any details on how he killed himself.

“The special victims unit is looking into the circumstances prior to his death,” Captain Michael Camilleri said. “We are not sure if there is anything criminal or not.”

No bullying laws exist in New York State, according to Camilleri, so police would have to determine whether aggravated harassment charges fit this case. Whether suspects would be tried in juvenile court would depend on whether the alleged bully was 16 or older, he said.

Police said they had spoken with Williamsville School Superintendent Scott G. Martzloff, who has pledged the district’s cooperation.

“We’ve heard that there were some specific students, an identifiable group of students, that had specifically targeted Jamey, or had been picking on him for a period of time,” Police Chief John C. Askey told the Buffalo News.

Jamey sent out many signals on social networking sites that he was struggling with his sexuality, even though he encouraged others on the It Gets Better project websiteYouTube to fight off the bullies.

He killed himself this weekend after posting an online farewell.

Lady Gaga weighed in on the situation via twitter: “Bullying must become illegal. It is a hate crime,” she tweeted.

“I am meeting with our President. I will not stop fighting. This must end. Our generation has the power to end it. Trend it #MakeALawForJamey,” the singer posted to twitter last night.

PHOTO: Jamey Rodemeyer, 14, was found dead outside his home of an apparent suicide.

PHOTO: Jamey Rodemeyer, 14, was found dead outside his home of an apparent suicide.

Students had been posting hate comments with gay references on his Formspring account, a website that allows anonymous posts.

“JAMIE IS STUPID, GAY, FAT ANND [sic] UGLY. HE MUST DIE!” one post said, according to local reports. Another read, “I wouldn’t care if you died. No one would. So just do it :) It would make everyone WAY more happier!”

Friends reported the bullying to guidance counselors. But everyone, including his mother, thought he had grown stronger.

His death coincides with a national summit this week sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, D.C., an effort to stem the toll of bullying school children.

Speaking at the second annual Federal Partners in Bullying Prevention Summit were the parents of Justin Aaberg, a gay 15-year-old from Champlain, Minn., who hanged himself after being bullied. The parents,
Tammy and Shawn Aaberg, said that one form of the bullying came from a student religious group whose members told Justin that he was going to hell because he was gay.

“Justin was a smiley, happy boy who loved to play his cello,” said his parents. “School systems need to do more to protect LGBT students from bullying, and not turn their back on them because of their sexual orientation.”

Rodemeyer’s suicide also sets off a somber beginning to LGBT History Month in October.

“Jamey’s suicide is a tragic reminder of the vulnerability of gay teens,” said Malcolm Lazin, founder and executive director of the Equality Forum, which focuses on LGBT civil rights and education.

“They are bullied and marginalized,” he said. “While some may say that Jamey took his life, it is unrelenting homophobia that murdered him.”

Jamey’s mother, Tracy Rodemeyer, who did not return calls from ABCNews.com, told the Buffalo News that her son had been questioning his sexuality and had expressed thoughts of suicide, but had also been encouraged by good friends and was a “happy” and “strong” teen.

Friends described him as caring and friendly, and he had been seeking help from a social worker and therapist.

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 28 percent of students aged 12 to 18 reported that they were bullied in school during the 2008-2009 school year. Bullying also slows down as children get older from a high of 39 percent of all sixth graders to 20 percent of high school seniors.

The most overwhelming form of bullying is done through ridicule, insult and rumors, rather than physical aggression, according to the report.

The rate of victimization among lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students has remained constant between 1999 and 2009, the latest date for which there are statistics, according to the National Climate Survey conducted by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

Parents and educators say they face significant challenges in stemming LGBT bullying, particularly at schools where there are fewer resources and support groups such as gay-straight alliances.

“We have seen some positive signs in available resources and supportive educators and society is moving in a good direction,” GLSEN spokesman Daryl Presgraves said. “But it’s still very difficult to be an LGBT youth in school.”

In May, after coming out to friends, Jamey posted a YouTube video on the new online site, It Gets Better Project, which provides testimony from adults and celebrities to reassure troubled and potentially suicidal LGBT youth that life improves as they get older.

He wrote: “Love yourself and you’re set. … I promise you, it will get better.”


Bullied to death: Public schoolgirl Natasha MacBryde, 15, died after being …

24 Feb

Lin Jones

Last updated at 4:51 AM on 24th February 2011

Bullied to death: Public schoolgirl Natasha MacBryde, 15, died after being struck by a train on the railway line near Bromsgrove

Bullied to death: Public schoolgirl Natasha MacBryde, 15, died after being struck by a train on the railway line near Bromsgrove

Fans of the internet never tire of proclaiming its virtues.

Communications, business, travel, entertainment and shopping have all been transformed — opening up new worlds, enriching people’s lives and vastly expanding consumer choice.

Yet the darker side of the internet has all too often been ignored. Just as computers can be a force for good, so they can promote misery and harm. In our brave new cyber world, freedom of communication can degenerate into a licence to abuse.

The truth is that the internet has opened up a window on the cruel and vicious side of human nature. In the virtual sphere, online sadists operate with impunity.

On many websites, particularly those aimed at the young, the boundaries of normal, civilised behaviour have been replaced by the sort of savage anarchy famously portrayed in William Golding’s novel Lord Of The Flies, in which civilised prep school boys turn into savages.

The consequences were highlighted this week by the tragic case of Natasha MacBryde, a 15-year-old schoolgirl who committed suicide after a remorseless campaign of internet bullying.

But that was not all. The malice that had led to her death continued on the internet, causing more anguish to her distraught family.

A Facebook website set up in Natasha’s memory was invaded by a deluge of offensive comments, ranging from sick jokes about the manner of her death to spiteful remarks about her character. This form of cyber bullying is known as ‘trolling’.

A message to Natasha from friends

Rest In Peace Natasha MacBryde

A Facebook site set up in Natasha’s memory (right) was invaded by spiteful, offensive comments. Left, a written tribute to the much loved pupil and daughter

One of the worst forms of on-line bullying comes from the so-called ‘trolls’, who post outrageous comments to get a perverted thrill from the reaction they provoke. As Natasha’s father, Andrew, said: ‘I simply cannot understand how these people get any enjoyment or satisfaction from making such disgraceful comments.’

Sadly, Natasha MacBryde’s case is not unique. Persecution through the web, by mobile phone, text or micro-blogging site Twitter is rife among young people.

My own family has direct experience of this appalling phenomenon, which resulted in the death of our beloved son, Matthew, in December 2008, when he was just 17.

Matthew had been a bright, happy child who loved playing on computers. But from the age of ten, he started to be bullied at school, perhaps because he was not as keen on sport as other boys.

The ordeal he had to endure was appalling. He was tormented by a gang of about 20 bullies, who never left him alone. They would taunt him, and steal from him, everything from pens to his bike. When the risibly named ‘happy slappy’ craze was at its height, they used their mobile phones to film their attacks on him, deepening his sense of being an outcast.

Matthew Jones committed suicide in 2008 aged 17 after the bullying became too much for him

Tragic death: Matthew Jones committed suicide in 2008 aged 17 after the bullying became too much for him

Technology worsened the pain, as he was subjected to a endless stream of heartless messages on his phone and his computer.

Bullies love the internet for several reasons. First, they can indulge in cruelty behind the mask of anonymity. Those who hurl abuse in public risk themselves but, in the virtual world, there is no such danger. Even the most malicious threats cannot easily be traced.

Not surprisingly, it all became too much for my son. He grew severely depressed and had to be treated by the mental health services. A mix of counselling and medication led to an improvement, with the result that he passed his GCSEs and went on to sixth-form college.

But the old problems of isolation and bullying soon returned. Matthew sank into despair. So dark was his despondency that he began to log on to a series of websites that promoted suicide. It seems unbelievable such websites are allowed to exist, since they openly encourage vulnerable people to take their own lives.

There may be a proper debate over the issue of assisted suicide for the terminally ill, yet here we have, in the online world, bloggers who goad people into killing themselves.

‘If you’re still here tomorrow, you’re just a chicken,’ is one typical taunt. For Matthew, the result was all too predictable. In December 2008, he gassed himself, having left a final message: ‘I used to be headstrong, happy and optimistic, but after seven years of fighting I have no fight left in me.’

The internet even facilitated his demise, for it was on eBay he bought the gas canister that killed him.

The tragedies we and the MacBryde families have suffered are, I believe, an entirely modern phenomenon. There was nothing like this level of bullying when I was at school.

In a recent survey, half of all 14-year-olds said that they had been bullied, mostly via Twitter or Facebook.

When one anti-bullying charity set up a website in March 2009, 23,000 youngsters visited it in the first three weeks, a graphic indication of the scale of the problem.

Internet unleashed: With scenes of unimaginable violence and sexual depravity just a click away, the internet is desensitising our children

Internet unleashed: With scenes of unimaginable violence and sexual depravity just a click away, the internet is desensitising our children

The internet has also encouraged the misguided belief that such viciousness is acceptable, being just another aspect of the kaleidoscope of human existence. In the virtual sphere, all barriers of what’s right and wrong, moral or immoral, have disappeared.

With scenes of unimaginable violence and sexual depravity just a click away, the internet is desensitising us, robbing us of normal human emotions. And the results are terrifying. Children are especially vulnerable to this, with studies showing that youngsters who have been exposed to violent images on the internet are desensitised to real-life violence.

Instead of challenging this barbarous culture, social networking sites are ignoring their responsibilities and choosing instead to profit spectacularly from this murky business.

Service providers, website managers and the Government ought to be responsible for cracking down on the widespread bullying and threats, yet they act as if they are powerless.

Facebook, for instance, could provide tougher monitoring of its users. But that would cost money which it doesn’t want to spend.

Similarly, Government ministers could introduce stronger regulation of websites. After all, the Government had no problem outlawing smoking throughout the nation.

Enforcing a sense of on-line responsibility should not be beyond the wit of our political leaders if the will existed.

If the present anarchic cruelty is allowed to continue, there will be more cases like those of Natasha and our son, Matthew.

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Psychologist: Deaths point to dangers of cyberbullying

30 Jan

Thanks to the way teenagers rely on the Internet for their socializing, “Dear Diary” has turned into “Dear Everyone.”

As a byproduct, teens now use computers, cell phones, BlackBerrys and other technology to cyberbully without considering the moral consequences of their actions.

That was the main point of clinical psychologist Emily D. Moore’s Wednesday-night presentation, “Cyberbullying in the Facebook Age,” at Santa Fe Preparatory School. Though the event was open to the public, only about 20 people — presumably parents — attended.

Cyberbullying — in which perpetrators use technology to harass, threaten, humiliate or even “out” someone — has been a common topic in the media in the past six months “because of all the deaths,” Moore said.

Last September, Tyler Clementi, a New Jersey college student, jumped of the George Washington Bridge after his roommate allegedly posted a video of Clementi having sex on the Internet. In 2005, Jeffrey Johnston hanged himself after being continually harangued online for being gay, even though he wasn’t (his tormentor was, Moore said). Jessica Logan committed suicide in the summer of 2008 after her ex-boyfriend texted photos of her nude to fellow students.

In the past, a victim could conceivably escape bullying by transferring to another school, Moore noted. That’s not possible today.

“The Internet is everywhere,” Moore said.

Often teens engage in cyberbullying in retaliation for a slight, or out of boredom. Some are simply power-hungry, like the old-fashioned schoolyard bully.

The fact that the victim is invisible, and that many computer users believe the Internet ensures them anonymity, makes the offense even easier to commit, because teens often see real life and online life as two very separate worlds.

Proxy bullying can take place when someone hacks into a woman’s private information (name, address, phone number, website), and sends out a mass e-mail missive to potential predators, saying the victim is a good-time girl waiting for a call.

In other cases, the situation can become like America’s Funniest Home Videos, only without the participant’s permission. Teens videotape one another in embarrassing situations and then text (or sext, if the images are provocative) those images to friends.

Still, children may be wary of telling their folks they are being cyberbullied, Moore stressed — particularly if they feel that Mom and Dad will pull the plug on computer privileges.

That tactic won’t work well, Moore said — “It’d be like taking away the keys to the car and saying to your kid, ‘You’re never going to drive.’ ”

However, parents can draw up an Internet-use agreement with their children. This should be done early on, Moore said, with kids understanding they can only use the computer for so many hours and for certain purposes, and with Mom promising she won’t overreact if her daughter opens up about being bullied or about inappropriate usage of the computer.

Parents need to build and maintain open communication and a relationship of trust with their children on this issue, Moore said. Parents should emphasize the need for teens to take moral responsibility for their actions as well.

Moore said teens are always going to outmaneuver their parents when it comes to using technology. Still, parents possess influential resources.

“Remind them that you will be part of their life forever, and ask for their respect and love and trust on that level,” she said. Also, remind children, “I’m going to be Googling you regularly until you are 18.”

Other practical tips for dealing with cyberbullying: Save and print out the offending documents for evidence (and do not respond via e-mail as the bully can use that evidence against you), and draw your child into the conversation about how to proceed. Don’t confront the bully’s parents without gaining your offspring’s cooperation, for instance.

And if the incident involves the school, parents have the right to demand accountability from principals, head learners and directors.

Jim Leonard, head of school for Santa Fe Prep, said he knows of fewer than 10 incidents of cyberbullying involving the school in the past five years. In each incident, school officials intervened, and there has not been one incident of repeat behavior, he said.

Contact Robert Nott at 986-3021 or rnott@sfnewmexican.com.