Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Public safety

Lakeland girl commits suicide after being bullied online

LAKELAND — Investigators have identified at least 15 girls who were involved in the social media circle of a 12-year-old Lakeland girl who took her own life after more than a year of constant bullying.

At a news conference Thursday, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said it appears Rebecca Ann Sedwick jumped to her death at an old cement business after being beat down with hate messages online. Her body was found Tuesday.

During their investigation, detectives found multiple social media applications where Sedwick was cyberbullied with messages, including "Go kill yourself," and "Why are you still alive?"

Sedwick was "absolutely terrorized on social media," Judd said.

The Sheriff's Office is investigating the cyberbullying, Judd said.

Judd said parents of all 15 girls have cooperated with detectives and several cellphones and laptops have been confiscated.

Before her death, Sedwick had searched questions online related to suicide, including "How many over-the-counter drugs do you take to die?" and "How many Advil do you have to take to die?"

The night before her death, Sedwick gave several warning signs about her planned suicide that were never reported for help.

Judd said a 12-year-old boy in North Carolina, whom Sedwick met through social media, knew of her plan. Sedwick messaged him only hours before her death saying she was dead and "I'm jumping, I can't take it anymore."

Sedwick also changed her name early Tuesday morning on the free messaging application, Kik Messenger, to "That Dead Girl."

Judd said detectives are trying to investigate the social media applications that Sedwick used, including Kik and Ask.fm, but many of the websites are based in other countries.

Florida has an antibullying law that covers cyberbullying. As the investigation continues, Judd said charges, including cyberstalking, could be filed.

He said it appears that the bullying started sometime in 2012 and was physical at her former school, Crystal Lake Middle School, and then moved completely online.

"We're trying to sort out a bunch of girl talk that goes further than girl talk," he said.

The investigation is still in its early stages, but Judd said there were warning signs that nobody noticed. If detectives can find evidence, the girls could be charged with felony cyberstalking because Sedwick was under 16 years old.

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