The Polk County Sheriff’s Office on Monday arrested charged two middle school students with felony aggravated stalking–or cyberbullying–in connection with the suicide of 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick in Lakeland on September 10, 2013.
Katelyn Roman, 12, and Guadalupe Shaw, 14, are accused of repeatedly and maliciously harassing Sedwick. from December 2012 to February 2013, according to their arrest affidavits. The case drew worldwide attention after Sedgwick climbed a tower on an abandoned cement plant in north Lakeland and jumped to her death after changing her user name on a cell application to “That Dead Girl.”
“In jumping,” The New York Times reported last month, “Rebecca became one of the youngest members of a growing list of children and teenagers apparently driven to suicide, at least in part, after being maligned, threatened and taunted online, mostly through a new collection of texting and photo-sharing cellphone applications. Her suicide raises new questions about the proliferation and popularity of these applications and Web sites among children and the ability of parents to keep up with their children’s online relationships.”
The charges, according to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, are a result of numerous detectives’ interviews.
All three girls attended Crystal Lake Middle School at the time of the alleged stalking. Several students corroborated stories of both girls bullying Sedwick on different occasions, through name-calling, intimidation, threats to beat her up, and at least one actual physical fight. The Times account had reported that up to 15 girls had been involved in the cyberbullying, urging Segwick to kill herself.
According to witnesses, including a boyfriend of Shaw’s who had previously been Rebecca’s boyfriend, Shaw had several arguments with Rebecca on Facebook, as well as verbal confrontations at school. During the incidents, Rebecca was observed walking away from Shaw and not engaging, leading witnesses to determine that Rebecca was being bullied by Shaw. Shaw also reportedly bullied anyone who was friends with Rebecca. For this reason, some children did not want to be friends with Rebecca, out of fear of being bullied by Shaw.
Witnesses reported that Shaw sent messages to Rebecca, calling her ugly, telling her to drink bleach and die, and telling Rebecca that she, Rebecca, should kill herself. Shaw tried to instigate physical fights with Rebecca on more than one occasion.
Shaw also instigated fighting between Roman and Rebecca. According to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office’s release, Roman was friends with Rebecca, until Shaw convinced Roman to stop being friends with her. Roman was suspended for one fight that occurred in February 2013, during which Shaw encouraged Roman to “beat up” Rebecca. Rebecca did not fight back. When interviewed recently by detectives, Roman admitted that she “bullied” Rebecca, and that she was sorry for doing it.
Detectives have determined that the malicious harassment by Roman and Shaw was likely a contributing factor in Rebecca’s decision to commit suicide.
Shaw and Roman were arrested Monday evening, October 14, 2013, and booked into the Polk County Juvenile Assessment Center. They were released from the Juvenile Assessment Center the same evening, into their respective parents’ custody. They remain on home detention.
In addition to releasing their names, the sheriff’s office released the booking images of the two girls, which have been included in news accounts of their arrests. The images of juvenile offenders are not usually released by police agencies. The Polk Sheriff’s Office is headed by Sheriff Grady Judd, currently the president of the state sheriff’s association and one of the nation’s harshest and doctrinaire top cops, fighting crime with a version of retributive justice that blurs the line between policing and punishment.
Judd, a media-savvy sheriff, had described Sdgwick as “absolutely terrorized on social media” during a news conference last month.