Phoebe Prince’s suicide last January shocked the nation. Prince was not the first teenager to commit suicide (and will sadly not be the last), but her story was noteworthy for the allegations that bullying by her classmates at a Massachusetts high school drove her to it. Now, a lawyer for several of the teens accused of harassing Prince to death is arguing that she suffered from mental illness and that this was the true cause of her decision to kill herself.
“They say that without the name-calling … Miss Prince would not have killed herself. But before Miss Prince’s unfortunate and tragic death, she had a history fraught with problems,” a lawyer for Sharon Chanon Velazquez, 17, who is accused of tormenting Prince, says in court newly filed documents. “She had been diagnosed and treated for mental health issues before [Velasquez] had any interactions with her.”
You know, medical records or not, it’s evident that Phoebe Prince had some pretty serious problems. Anyone that would commit suicide has, at the very least, the lack of an effective coping mechanism (and sometimes that inability to cope is temporary … but sadly too late). That said, though, there’s this expression about a straw and a camel’s back, and it’s an adage I happen to agree with. Those on the outside will never know the straw that turned Ted Bundy into a psychopathic killer of women … or Osama bin Laden into the most notorious terrorist of all time … or Lindsay Lohan to start drinking before she was a teenager.
In Phoebe Prince’s case, that straw is obviously the cruelty she suffered at the hands of her classmates.
Part of me truly does feel badly for Sharon Velazquez, who probably had no specific intention of driving Phoebe Prince to hang herself. I think knowing that you are part of that straw is a horrible, heart-wrenching guilt that will never go away.
But Phoebe Prince paid the ultimate price here.
According to Prince’s mother, Anne O’Brien, there is some credence to the theory that her daughter was “deeply troubled” before her suicide. Prince, who suffered bullying in her native Ireland, started self-mutilating as a means of making the pain stop.
The move to Massachusetts — accompanied by newly prescribed antidepressants — was supposed to be a fresh start for Phoebe Prince. It started out positively, but Phoebe was showing definite reasons for concern by November of 2009 and was hospitalized in a psychiatric unit following an overdose of the Seroquel she was prescribed to treat bipolar disorder.
Prince’s bullying seemed to stem from typical “you stole my boyfriend” kinds of accusations. The culminating event was when a student threw something at her out of a car while she was walking home. She hanged herself upon getting back to her family’s apartment, leaving her twelve year-old sister to discover her body.
The District Attorney for Northwestern County in Massachusetts released a statement in response to legal rumblings of “she was crazy before my clients harassed her so they have absolutely no responsibility into the loss of Phoebe Prince’s life.”
“As a matter of law, the existence of a victim’s disability does not legally excuse a defendant’s criminal actions,” Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel said in the statement. “Under many statutory schemes, it serves to aggravate the offense, rather than mitigate it. The charges filed against the six defendants are appropriate and supported by the available evidence,” she said.
This is a sad story all around as Phoebe Prince’s family has lost forever a beloved daughter and sister. However, laying 100% of the blame for this tragic loss of life on the doorsteps of a bunch of high school students doesn’t seem completely fair either.
At the end of the day, I guess the one positive to take from this horribly sad story is an awareness of the presence of bullying — and the possible repercussions of taking part in any sort of cruelty against another human being.
You never know if you’re going to be that straw …