The Truth Behind the Phoebe Prince Suicide


bully free zone bullyingWhat really caused Phoebe Prince, the 15-year-old, Irish-born student new to South Hadley High School, to commit suicide last January? Was she truly brought to suicide because she was bullied there by the nine South Hadley students facing criminal charges for bullying her? Or is there more to the story in this case?

As part of her series on cyberbullying, Emily Bazelon of has been reporting in South Hadley since February. And now in a three-part series on the Phoebe Prince case, she's revealing the hidden truths behind the story and asking us -- as citizens, parents, and former teens ourselves -- to consider some very tough questions.

Before you say we should just put this story to rest, we have to consider that the fates of the students facing charges -- five being very serious criminal charges -- are still on the line. Whether they are guilty of bullying Phoebe into suicide has yet to be determined. So perhaps, to be responsible, we can't yet put this to rest.

Bazelon writes:

"I've wrestled with how much of this information to publish. Phoebe's family has suffered terribly. But when the D.A. charged kids with causing Phoebe's death and threatened them with prison, she invited an inquiry into other potential causes. The whole story is a lot more complicated than anyone has publicly allowed for. The events that led to Phoebe's death show how hard it is for kids, parents, and schools to cope with bullying, especially when the victim is psychologically vulnerable. The charges against the students show how strong the impulse is to point fingers after a suicide, how hard it is to assess blame fairly, and how ill-suited police and prosecutors can be to punishing bullies."

According to Bazelon's reports, Phoebe Prince was indeed bullied. That is not the question. She was called an "Irish whore" and other horrible names to her face and on Facebook. She was verbally harassed and physically stalked. There are accounts that she may have been shoved into a locker at some point and was fearful of walking down the halls and being attacked. Two of the male students, who were seniors and had relationships with Phoebe, are also facing charges of statutory rape since the age of consent is 16 in Massachusetts.

However, there is also another side to the story that complicates the case against these students all the more.

Bazelon's research reveals that before Phoebe arrived in the States, she began cutting herself in 2008 while having troubles with other girls in boarding school in Ireland and was ultimately pulled out by her mother who sought professional help for her. That help came in the form of the antidepressant Prozac.

Phoebe then moved to the States from her former home in Ireland in September -- just four months before her suicide -- with her sister and her mother who had just split from her father. Her father stayed in Ireland, and it's revealed that Phoebe deeply missed him. 

After trouble started at South Hadley between Phoebe and other students, she was reevaluated and prescribed Seroquel, a drug used to treat mood disorders. But when Phoebe fell into relationship with the wrong guy -- one with an ex-girlfriend waiting in the wings -- and told the ex about her sexual relationship with the guy, things got ugly. When he tried to break off the relationship completely, Phoebe swallowed the bottle of Seroquel in a suicide attempt and ended up hospitalized for the next week.

Even up until the days before she committed suicide, Phoebe continued with cutting her own body in an attempt to relieve her emotional pain. Add what sounds like a little promiscuity and misplaced emotional attachments and possibly alcohol and marijuana use to the barrel, and you have a case for one very emotionally disturbed girl.

All this to say no, Phoebe Prince DID NOT deserve to be bullied. No way. No how. However, it is also to say she was deeply troubled before any of the bullying began.

Do we hope a case like Phoebe's can help put an end to bullying and bring consequences to bullies? Of course. Is putting young offenders in jail the way to do it or is this just a case of, as many of the students at South Hadley described it, "normal girl drama"?

If not, who's to blame? The parents? The school? A psychologist who missed something? Or maybe every single one of us who watches a bully bully or an emotionally wrought person cry and does nothing? Or maybe no one. But there has to be someone to blame for such a horrific ending to a young girl's life, doesn't there? Doesn't there?

Now that you know a little more, does it change your mind about the Phoebe Prince case? Are the kids awaiting trial to blame? If not, who is?


Image via Eddie~S/Flickr

high school, bullies, kid health, in the news, teens


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Susan... SusanTheWriter

I'll believe that she was a seriously disturbed young woman, but I take issue with the phrase "normal girl drama."

What those students did should NEVER be dismissed as "normal." Verbal and physical harrassment, stalking, cyberstalking, cyberbullying...since when did that become normal and an acceptable rite of passage for teens? The more we accept as tolerable behaviour, the further people with no conscience can push the line. This time, it killed someone.

Jabboo Jabboo

Who's to blame? Seriously?

True, bullying wasn't the only trouble this girl had. Yes, there were other issues this girl experienced that left her traumatized, and damaged. Wounded. Hurting.

You want to point out her self harming, her previous suicide attempt. Maybe to just reveal some facts. Or maybe it's to try to revictimize this girl by alluding to her being the sole guilty person for her death, by showing she was already damaged.

While her being damaged and having harmed herself, in more than one way, is truth. It is also truth that the words and actions of others, especially upon a clearly already wounded person, are blameworthy. Her bullies may not have been the ones to physically hang her, but they may as well have been.

Even if Phoebe Prince hadn't killed herself, those people would still be guilty. Their words and actions were purposeful, and malicious. They bullied her, repeatedly.

Bullying still exists because too many people are still not accepting it, and treating it, as the serious problem that it is. A problem that though it shouldn't exist, does. It's wrong, and people need to accept that, we need not just children, but adults, especiallyl adutls, to admit it's wrong, it's not a normal part of life everyone goes through. It's not some rite of passage. It's bad, it's wrong, period, and we as human beings who want to consider ourselves civilized, have to work together, to deal with it, and to support the victims, not excuse the perpetrators.

diospira diospira

While I had never heard of this case before and would not form an opinion based on the info here, a major red flag for me would be the drug she was on, Seroquel, presumably prescribed by a doctor.

According to its manufacturer:

"Antidepressants have increased the risk of suicidal thoughts and actions in some children, teenagers, and young adults. Patients of all ages starting treatment should be watched closely for worsening of depression, suicidal thoughts or actions, unusual changes in behavior, agitation, and irritability. Patients, families, and caregivers should pay close attention to any changes, especially sudden changes in mood, behaviors, thoughts, or feelings. This is very important when an antidepressant medicine is started or when the dose is changed. Report any change in these symptoms immediately to the doctor."

Who was watching out for this girl, who so clearly needed help? Yes, the bullies were reprehensible, but these events did not take place in a vacuum. And the use of potentially dangerous prescription drugs shouldn't be ignored.



clean... cleanaturalady

While I don't condone bullying in any form, as a matter of fact I think it is horrible and is not tolerated in my home, I don't know if there is a case to prove, in a court of law, that these girls caused Phoebe to commit suicide.

tazdvl tazdvl

I believe the bullies, the school, the parents and her psychologist are to blame. The bullies for bulling her, and no, it is not 'normal girl drama', the school for not putting a stop to it at school, her parents for not keeping a better watch on her.....they knew she was troubled, they had to have known she was being bullied and they didn't do enough to get the school to stop it, the psychologist b/c he also should have been keeping a better eye on her with the meds he gave her. Did anyone of them contact facebook about the bullying? If so then facebook should have looked into it and deleted their pages and not let them back on.....yes they can do that by blocking their IP address.

ethan... ethans_momma06

I never heard of this case before, however I don't think that they (the children) are solely responsible for her death.

Carey... Carey2006

NOPE, does NOT change my mind...those 'kids' should be held accountable for the torment they caused that girl!

Pnukey Pnukey

This is the first I've heard about it. It sounds like the bullies should be help partially responsible, but they clearly weren't the only problems Phoebe had.

tonya... tonyalynn

this is so sad

fmchavez fmchavez

None of this changes my mind.

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