The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

October 18, 2013

Girls' arrests in Florida bullying case may mark turning point

(Continued)

The response to the arrests has been overwhelmingly supportive, he said. The only criticism he has heard is the department’s release of the girls’ names, which have been widely reported. Judd said the disclosure was required by Florida law. The Los Angeles Times does not publish the names of arrested minors as a matter of policy unless they are charged as adults.

The investigation into Rebecca’s death is continuing and Judd would not rule out charges against the parents of the girls, though he said he had no probable cause for charges so far.

He noted that the 12-year-old and her family were apologetic after the arrests, in contrast to what he said was the defiance of the 14-year-old and her family. After the 12-year-old’s first appearance in court this week, a state judge released her to her family but ordered the older girl to remain in state custody.

“The judge saw one family contrite and remorseful. The other child was cold, callous and not caring,” Judd said. “He remanded her back to the custody of the juvenile system.”

The parents of the older girl denied she bullied Rebecca and said their daughter’s social media account had been hacked, denials Judd characterized as suspicious.

He added, “These parents went out to lunch and forgot to return.”

Judd noted that the investigation was bogged down by the difficulty in getting all of the Internet communications that were sent by the girls, including on Facebook. At least two foreign websites were used, one in Canada and another in or near Russia.

Debbie Johnston, a Florida teacher and a partner in High’s organization, supports Judd’s tough actions.

“We are finally enforcing the laws on the books,” Johnston said.

When her 15-year-old son killed himself after being bullied, Johnston began advocating for a new cyberbullying law in Florida, and the state became one of the first to enact legislation. She said that until recent years, schools put the onus of bullying on the victim.

“We have finally begun to stop sweeping the problem under the carpet and started holding the culprits accountable,” she said.

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