Locals who live near South Hadley, Massachusetts high school where tragic suicide victim Phoebe Prince was repeatedly bullied were enraged by the revelations this week that staff members knew she was a target long before her death.
Yesterday, locals and public officials hit out at the school for neglecting vulnerable students and they called on its top administrators to resign. “People are just bewildered that they didn’t step in, and are wondering why they weren’t included with the students in the prosecution," Joe Marois, who runs a local construction company, told the press.
The South Hadley High School officials had previously asserted that they knew little about the bullying until after Prince’s death, although they admitted they had removed an additional small group of students from the school, and they said nothing to address questions about their role in handling the Prince case.
Yesterday State Representative John W. Scibak, who represents South Hadley, criticized school officials for their continued silence, and asked why the administrators didn’t act on the harassment reports.
“I’m looking for answers,’’ Scibak said. “Families have a reasonable expectation that these kinds of complaints will be act ed on, and they are entitled to a full explanation of what transpired. People wanted answers two months ago.’’
The latest outrage stems from details that emerged this week of a months long campaign of verbal abuse and physical threats that Prince, who was 15 when she died, endured before hanging herself on January 14.
Those details were released on Monday by the Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel. She also announced charges against nine teenagers in connection with Prince’s death and excoriated school officials for failing to intercede, despite the fact the harassment was known to a number of faculty, staff, and administrators.
The discrepancies between the D.A. South Hadley official's accounts infuriated residents, who criticized school officials for turning a blind eye to Prince’s persecution, claiming that they hardly knew about it.
Scheibel said that Prince’s mother had spoken with at least two school staff members about the bullying, which the superintendent of schools, Gus Sayer, had previously denied.
“They lied to the community,’’ Darby O’Brien, whose stepdaughter is a senior at South Hadley High School, told the press. “They lied about how long it had gone on, and they lied that the mother had never come forward. If they had stepped in, this could have been prevented. But they failed miserably, and I don’t think you can trust them to protect the safety of the students.’’
“We are practically begging for answers, and they have none,’’ Erica Laughlin, a 39-year-old mother of four, told the press. “We are absolutely fit to be tied that none of the staff is being held accountable. This has apparently been an issue for a long time, and I still don’t see anyone taking responsibility.’’
Prince hanged herself in the stairwell outside her family’s apartment shortly after arriving home from school after a day of what Scheibel described as tortuous abuse, some of it witnessed by a teacher who did not alert administrators until after her death.
The teenagers, who include three juveniles, face charges ranging from criminal harassment and civil rights violations to stalking and statutory rape. Relatives of the teenagers who have been charged could not be reached for comment or declined to comment to the press.