Just one week after Phoebe Prince’s accused bullies were sentenced to probation and community service Anne O’Brien, Prince’s mother, is returning to Ireland to bury her daughter’s ashes.
Before she left she gave an exclusive interview to the Boston Globe. She wanted the world to know that her 15-year-old daughter who was driven to suicide in January 2010 due to relentless bullying was a beautiful, intelligent, sensitive girl. She also wants her family to be left alone to get on with their lives.
In March 2010 six South Hadley students were charged over the bullying of Prince. The County Clare girl soon became the poster-child for a worldwide anti-bullying frenzy.
Although O’Brien and the rest of the Phoebe’s family wanted the bullies to be held accountable she never wanted them to go to jail. What she really wanted was for them to acknowledge and apologize for what they put her daughter through. Two of the five charged with bullying, Kayla Narey and Ashley Longe, apologized.
She said “It was all we ever wanted…For these kids to take ownership of what they did, and to show genuine remorse. They either get it, or they don’t. Kayla and Ashley get it.’’
“The school personnel will never be held accountable. It’s unfair.’’
O’Brien said the teachers and administrators should have protected Prince. Instead they helped to isolate her. Somehow they seemed to think she had put herself in the situation by dating the wrong boys. O’Brien even heard that some teachers were badmouthing Prince saying she “slept with the entire football team.’’
Prince had slept with Sean Mulveyhill, one of the accused, the captain of the football team. He dumped her and the young girl took an overdose of the drug Seroquel. She told her mother straight away.
After she was released from hospital she was set upon by teens from South Hadley and adults at the school. They knew she was vulnerable.
O’Brien was also taken aback when South Hadley High school went ahead with the annual cotillion just two days after Prince had hung herself at her family home. She described this decision as cold and callous and questioned whether this decision would have been made had Prince been a local girl instead of a new student from Ireland.
Her mother will now always have to live with the regret of bringing Prince and her sister Lauren to South Hadley to have a break from Ireland. O’Brien said that her daughter had no problems in her Irish school.
She explained “I just thought Phoebe needed a break. She was in a school with 175 kids, grades 7 to 12…But I also thought it would be good for her and Lauren.’’
However O’Brien soon realized that being part of the South Hadley High School would not be easy. Having enrolled at the beginning in of the year Prince did not hear from the adjustment counselor until mid-November 2009. They had been made aware that Prince suffered from depression.
O’Brien said “Phoebe was made to feel she had to deal with things on her own. She didn’t feel safe, or supported. I knew she was being bullied. But I didn’t see this coming. She saw her therapist the night before, and the therapist didn’t see this coming.
“If the school had done what it should have done, the bullying wouldn’t have gotten that bad. There would not have been an escalation. Phoebe wouldn’t have felt so cornered.’’
South Hadley School Superintendent Gus Sayer maintains no one in the schools did anything wrong.
She continued “The way the school behaved after Phoebe died reflected the way they behaved before Phoebe died. They blamed her…They didn’t protect her while she was alive, and after she died they blamed her for bringing it on herself.
“As a teacher, I found it quite shocking. I think there’s a systemic problem at South Hadley, a systemic failing of my daughter and of other children. I don’t think there will be true healing or change until they have a change in the very top of the administration, until they get rid of Gus Sayer, until they get rid of the school committee that supports him.’’
O’Brien’s attorney, Robert Leonard, pointed out that Prince’s mother and the rest of the family have turned down numerous offers from book publishers and movie producers. He said “The family is not interested,” he said.
Prince’s mother is appalled by the very idea. She said “The idea that people are going to make money off this is making me demented. Phoebe has become this commodity.’’
The media frenzy surrounding daughters death disturbed her as she received letters from across the globe. She said “We’d get letters from people who lost their children. . . . A jeweler in Chicago wrote me, saying how even a year after he couldn’t go to his son’s grave. I kept thinking, why is my kid getting all this attention and what about the people whose kids don’t get attention? Those children are no less deserving of sympathy.
“At some point you’ve got to let go. I don’t want to see movies made. I don’t want to see an episode of ‘Law and Order.’ I don’t want to read books. That’s why we haven’t said anything.’’
O’Brien hopes that her daughter’s legacy will be that children are less cruel to each other, that parents talk to their kids and that teachers and administrators take bullying more seriously.