Portrait of a Tragedy

Portrait of a Tragedy

It was a new day. She was beginning her first year of high school in a new country. Her Irish eyes smiled with anticipation.

But she never anticipated what would happen.

She never anticipated that the price of popularity with the cool guys would be sex.

She never anticipated that the consequences of that would be online and physical harassment, cruelty, and physical abuse from her fellow students.

She never anticipated indifference from the teachers and administration.

She never anticipated being unable to cope.

But she couldn’t.

The end of the day found her at the end of a rope.



In 2009, Phoebe Prince came to the United States from Ireland and began high school in South Hadley, MA. She was 15 years old, an age when fitting in is paramount. She no doubt made errors in judgment in her attempts to fit in, but again, she was 15. The result was a continuous barrage of harassment from a group of her fellow students, the pretty, popular girls who came to be known as the Mean Girls. Determined to put her in her place, they were relentless, stalking her and calling her cruel names. She was threatened with physical harm. She was brought to tears more than once by the vicious attacks, some of them witnessed by teachers. Taunting messages were posted on Facebook, Craigslist and other social networking sites, and were circulated via text messages. Repeated pleas for help from both Phoebe and her mother were allegedly ignored by the school administration.

On January 14, 2010, after suffering three separate attacks at the hands of the Mean Girls, Phoebe went home and hanged herself.

But, unbelievably, that wasn’t the end of it. After she was dead, vicious messages belittling Phoebe were posted on a memorial Facebook page. In school the next day, the Mean Girls continued to bad mouth her. And the school administration continued to deny any culpability. The mother of one of the Mean Girls actually blamed the victim.

Perhaps because of an attack of conscience, or perhaps because pressure from public opinion and the media, help has come for Phoebe, albeit too late. At the end of March, the local District Attorney brought charges against nine students who made Phoebe Prince’s life a living hell. A movement campaigning for “Phoebe’s Law,” legislation that would make school bullying illegal, is gaining momentum nationwide.

This is all good and necessary, but really? It’s too little, too late.

Rest in peace, Phoebe.


On May 3, 2010, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed an anti-bullying bill into law. 


  1. ugh. this one hurt just a bit...middle school came crashing back into me...glad the law is moving forward now though. it can be relentless...nicely written patti

  2. Patti, your words will echo into the next lifetime. May Phoebe find rest and vindication- may her tormenters reap their karmic whirlwind, and may we all BE the line in the sand for someone who is vulnerable.

    This one hits me hard. My daughter is being bullied at her daycare; the administrators have decided she is "just sensitive". I dunno. I'm pretty "sensitive" too when someone holds me down and kicks my face.

    I feel this keenly. My heart goes out to Phoebe's family. Thank you for the 100 words and the backstory.

  3. How very sad. How good of you to speak out.

  4. Tragic. And perfectly distilled to its essence in 100 words.

  5. Accggghh. Memories.
    I really, really wish there had been a "Phoebe's Law" when I was a child.

    Bullies made my grade school years (and junior high years) SO very bad.

    It's infuriating when the school refuses to step in and administer justice.
    The bullies get away with it, and the victim's wounds never really completely heal.

    I know.

  6. errors of judgment? initiating sexual encounters with two football players, using her body for sex and love and acceptance, age 15, that is "errors of judgment"? merely? maybe the girl really was a slut. ever think of that? even PEOPLE magazine lies when it says:

    The attention Phoebe received from male students provoked girls to call her "Irish whore," says a close female friend. The situation was further *exacerbated last fall, when Phoebe *caught the attention of school football captain Sean Mulveyhill .Caught the attention????? Maybe she initiated all this. Ever think about that? the media is not reporting the truth.

  7. You told her story the way you should have. Dan has told us more about himself than he has about Phoebe.

  8. It's unfortunate that these words ever had to bed written.

    And yes... 'errors in judgement'. There are reasons why one is still a 'minor' at 15, no matter how grown up they, or anyone else, thinks they are.

    And excellent, and difficult job Patti.

  9. Very well written, Mom. This is the sort of thing we try to make our students aware of in my middle school. We try to squelch the "mean girls" before they can start, by supporting all students individually, and in their peer groups.

    I truly believe education and awareness is the key. Laws will change nothing if the teachers and administrators, as well as parents, don't step up to support childern. ALL children.

    There is a reason behind the harrassing. Those children can't be ignored anymore than the victims can. We as adults need to get to the heart of the problem and help children grow.

    It takes a community...

  10. It breaks my heart to hear stories like this, and it's happening much too often. The old verse, 'words can never hurt me,' is wrong. To continue harassing her family even after her death, should be criminal.

    For Dan: no matter what Phoebe's behavior was, she did not deserve nor initiate cruelty so heinous that taking her own life was the only answer she had to make it stop.

  11. As a therapist specializing in adolescent girls and eating disorders,this touches on something I see everyday. The permanent damage done to young girls' hearts by those who become bullies because of their own insecurities is tragic. Thank you for speaking out for those who can't do it themselves and for those whose voice isn't heard when they do speak.

  12. Slate magazine has done a lot of work on this case, and is well worth your attention.

    I'm a little surprised you allowed Dan's comments to stand-but I praise your commitment to free speech in allowing it to remain here.

    Obviously several errors were made here, and nothing any of us can do or say will undo those mistakes.

    I think the point I would like to make is regardless of what Phoebe did or did not do, there were ways to deal with it without hounding her into her grave.

    There is no excuse for bullying of any kind.

    I've heard, mostly over at Slate, all the arguments-
    "Well, I was bullied, and I turned out okay." "I was a bully, but I learned." Bully (so to speak) for you.

    And adolesence isn't easy for any of us.

    But we should not permit a system to exist that breaks young girls and boys when they fall out of favor with the majority.

  13. Bruce, Aurora, Tara, Jennifer: Thank you for coming, and for sharing your support for children like Phoebe.

    Lisa: I'm proud to know that you are on the front lines of issues like this. I know how tough you are.

    Michael: Thank you for the referral to Slate. I read it all and got mad all over again. I agree with everything you said in your comment.

    To all of you: You were perhaps as shocked as I was at Dan's comment. I guess we shouldn't have been, given all that has been said since Phoebe's life ended. His comment was not all that he said to me. I also had some poison (with his last name on it) that came directly to my e-mail address. As far as I know, he is not one of the great people I "see" regularly out here in my blogging world. How he found my blog, I can only guess. I'm supposing he searches regularly on Phoebe Prince's name, and my post came up.

    I did consider deleting his post. I decided not to, not so much because of my commitment to free speech, but more because I felt his comments were a perfect illustration of my point.

  14. Breaks my heart and makes me angry to think of such bullying. Glad you spoke out for Phoebe and others like her, Patti. Childhood is hardest during the pre-teen and teen years I think and, unfortunately, kids can be some of the meanest people around. (They can be kind, too, I know but that's another story for another time.) It scares me to see what they're capable of and how little they value another human life and spirit.

  15. I agree, PJ. One has to worry about what kind of adults some of these teens will turn out to be.

  16. Update: On May 3, 2010, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick signed an anti-bullying bill into law.

  17. How incredibly and horribly tragic. Thanks for sharing Phoebe's story, PattiKen. I was gladdened to see that the Governor signed an anti-bulling bill into law. It's heartbreaking that such actions are only taken after lives are lost.

  18. When I was child I was small and timid, and I was bullied, but never to the extent seen now. Through technology the world has become a smaller, meaner place. The cruel and the brutish have found a willing and compliant medium in the internet and though instant communication. Think of it as a virus on the vast social network that has sucked us all in, willing or otherwise. It is our task to fight this virus, not just as parents, but as people of good conscious. Speak out against cruelty and abuse, no matter who the victim is.
    I am no longer small, nor am I timid. If you bully, derogate, abuse me or mine in any way, I will get in your face…and, really, you do not want me in your face.
    So please, be nice.

  19. Well done, Patti. This is an excellent tribute, and it sheds light on an important issue. Bullying hurts, it causes fights, and it ends the will to continue. Complex and worth our attention...thanks for this write.


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