by Barbara Liston, Reuters
November 25, 2013
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Handout photo of Rebecca Sedwick CREDIT Handout . / Reuters/Reuters
(Please note graphic language in paragraph five.)
ORLANDO, Florida (Reuters) - The mother of a 12-year-old Florida girl tormented by schoolmates until she killed herself in September said on Monday she would file a civil lawsuit and launch a national crusade to rein in bullies.
"I'm going to make sure that other children are not tormented like my daughter was. My goal is to use this personal tragedy to make society a safer place to live. I know it is what Rebecca would want," said Tricia Norman, mother of Rebecca Sedwick.
Her lawyer, Matt Morgan, would not say who would be targeted in the upcoming civil lawsuit over Sedwick's death.
Sedwick jumped from a silo at an abandoned cement plant in Lakeland, Florida, after enduring months of online bullying, even after switching schools.
Felony charges of aggravated stalking were filed against two girls, 12 and 14 years old, after Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said the older girl posted a subsequent online message saying: "Yes, I bullied Rebecca and she killed herself but IDGAF," an acronym typically meaning "I don't give a fuck."
The charges were dropped last week through a juvenile diversion program that will ensure the girls get counseling.
Morgan said he was drafting legislation called "Rebecca's Law" to provide for criminal penalties for bullying, which he said do not exist under current law.
Morgan said his law firm was also helping Norman create a petition for national legislation, which he is calling the "Safe Schools Improvement Act of 2013," that would require schools to enforce anti-bullying rules and procedures as a condition of state funding.
Morgan described bullying as "epidemic" and issued a warning to parents that his Orlando firm, Morgan & Morgan, which bills itself as the largest consumer protection and personal injury law firm in the Southeast United States, would aggressively pursue lawsuits on behalf of bullying victims through an in-house team devoted to the issue.
"We intend to use the civil justice system to change behavior while we wait for our legislation to go through the appropriate channels," Morgan said.
"Our message to parents is simple and it's clear. Monitor your child's behavior if you believe they are bullying another. You must take the steps necessary to make sure it doesn't happen again in the future. It has to stop immediately. Because if it doesn't you might find yourself on the wrong side of a lawsuit with your personal assets in jeopardy," Morgan said.
In the Sedwick case, Judd expressed concern that the older girl's parents allowed her to continue using electronic devices after the suicide, and that "She's right back online doing the same kind of things again."
Norman said it was hard to express her reaction to her daughter's death.
"I feel like I'm living a nightmare and I can't wake up. I keep waiting for it to be over but it never ends. My heart aches constantly, my body is numb, I can't sleep, my happiness no longer exists. My baby is gone," Norman said.
(Reporting by Barbara Liston; Editing by Jane Sutton and Maureen Bavdek)
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