by Henry Austin and Julmary Zambrano, NBC News
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October 17, 2013
One of the two girls facing charges over the suicide of a bullied 12-year-old Florida girl said Thursday she was "saddened” by the episode but expects to be cleared, according to a statement released by her attorney.
The students, aged 12 and 14, are accused by Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd of "maliciously harassing" Rebecca Sedwick with verbal and physical abuse and cyber-bullying their victim until she took her own life.
He booked the pair into a juvenile detention center Monday and released them to their parents under house arrest.
Sedwick jumped to her death from a third-story cement plant structure in central Florida on Sept. 10. after being verbally, physically and cyber bullied throughout 2012 and 2013, Judd said.
Florida sheriff Grady Judd says the parents of a 14-year-old-girl arrested for bullying another student, who ended up taking her own life, should be charged for failing to monitoring their daughter's online activity. Some legal experts say that unless it can be proved that the parents encouraged the behavior, a crime cannot be established. NBC's Mark Potter reports.
We have new details this morning on a bullying case in Florida that we told you about on Wednesday. The sheriff is now trying to come up with a way to file criminal charges against the parents of a 14-year-old girl accused of bullying a classmate who eventually took her own life. Here's NBC's Mark Potter:
The death of 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick who committed suicide last month by jumping from a tower at this cement plant haunts Florida's Poke County sheriff Grady Judd.
Grady Judd: "My heart was broken. I want to make sure that we do everything we can to send a loud message that parents have to pay attention."
Authorities say Sedwick was bullied by other girls physically and online. Two girls ages 12 and 14 were arrested this week and charged with aggravated stalking of a minor after the oldest allegedly posted a message just days ago on facebook showing no remorse. Judd says the girl's parents failed to monitor their children's behavior.
Grady Judd: "At this point in the investigation, we don't have a criminal case against any parents. We wish that we did."
NBC legal analyst, Kendall Coffey says it's a hard case to make.
Kendall Coffey: "Unless there's proof that the parents actively encouraged the bullying, there may be bad parenting, there may be moral responsibility, but there won't be a crime."
The attorney for the 14-year-old denies she was a bully.
Andrea Demichael: "She's a caretaker, and she's very comforting, and just loving to other kids, and the kids in the neighborhood, and she just socializes with a lot of people."
The attorney denies the girl wrote the facebook entry. Her parents say she was hacked, and that they monitored her.
Andrea Demichael: "You know, the parents were doing the best job they could with what they knew."
Sheriff Judd says the other girl and her parents have accepted responsibility, but the parents would not speak with NBC News. The long-term hope, the sheriff says, is for Rebecca's tragic death to raise awareness and prevent others. For today, Mark Potter, NBC News Miami.
In the attorney statement Thursday, one of the accused girls expressed sorrow over the death.
“My client and her family are deeply saddened by Rebecca's death and send their condolences to Rebecca's family,” it said. “My client's parents are stunned at the events that have transpired.”
“They feel that their daughter is a loving, caring, and supportive young girl with many friends,” the statement said, going on to explain that they had encouraged “open communication” with their daughter and regularly monitored her cell phone and Facebook account.
“Since they frequently monitored her and never observed these alleged messages, they did not see a problem to confront,” it continued. “Furthermore, they were unaware of misconduct at school regarding their daughter.”
The statement added that the parents would have spoken to the youngster if the problems had been brought to light, describing the alleged behavior as "out of character."
At a Tuesday news conference, Sheriff Judd said investigators were in the midst of gathering information from social media sites about the alleged bullies’ interactions with Sedwick.
Rebecca Sedwick's mother says she jumped to her death after being terrorized online. NBC's Charles Hadlock reports.
We're back with a wake-up call for parents whose kids are getting to that stage when the computer and a cell phone become a big part of their lives. Experts say parents should be aware of possible online bullying, a problem highlighted once again this past week with the death of a young girl in Florida. Her mother says she was continuously bullied. Not only at school but through social media apps on her phone. We get the story tonight from NBC's Charles Hadlock:
12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick of Lakeland, Florida, lived in a tortured world online. No one knew until Rebecca's mom saw the text on her daughter's cellphone.
Mother, Tricia Norman: "They were just saying mean things to her, telling her, you know, 'Why don't you go kill yourself? You're ugly; you're stupid; nobody likes you.'"
Police think the vicious texting conversations may have led her to climb to a platform of this abandoned cement plant last week and jump to her death.
"I just can't believe she's gone. She was only 12."
Making her one of the youngest children to apparently commit suicide after being bullied online.
Grady Judd: "Some of the juveniles have told us that Rebecca was absolutely terrorized on social media by some girls."
The abuse started more than a year ago. Rebecca's mother pulled her out of school, closed her facebook page, and changed her cell phone number.
Grady Judd: "The bullying continued by a group of female juveniles on different social media outlets such as Kickaskfm, Instagram, and Voxxer."
Rebecca Levey: "There are a host of apps out there that allow you to text message someone in a more private way where you are really like username to username. And parents would have no idea that's going on."
Although most social media apps are not meant for kids under 13, experts say they become a tool for kids to bully other kids.
Rebecca Levey: "It's very easy for some cyberbullying to snowball, and everyone starts joining in, and group text messaging people."
Mother, Tricia Norman: "Whether it's the parents of the bullier, or the parents of the bullied, either way parents need to pay attention to what their kids are doing."
An online tragedy with real world pain.
Charles Hadlock, NBC News.
These included a Facebook post by the 14-year-old which read, “yes I bullied Rebecca and she killed herself, but I don’t give a (expletive).”
While bullying is not a crime, Judd added, the girls have been charged with aggravated stalking — a third-degree felony — because the victim was younger than 16 years old.
In addition to the 14-year-old's Facebook confession, Judd said both girls made "incriminating statements" when they were arrested.
But in its statement, the family said they expected their daughter would be cleared.
“They anticipate that the truth will come to light and their daughter’s name will be cleared,” the statement said.