Wednesday, December 13, 2017
Public safety

Mom says boy's Facebook comments about daughter provoked her to choke him

ST. PETERSBURG — Debbie Piscitella snapped.

She was shopping with her daughter Monday afternoon when her daughter saw the boy near Sears. That's the boy, the 13-year-old told her mother, the one who wrote on Facebook that the girl was so unattractive he wouldn't even rape her.

Piscitella charged up to the 14-year-old high school freshman, grabbed his backpack and choked him. The assault was caught on a store camera.

Hours later, the 46-year-old mother and aspiring nurse found herself in the back of a police cruiser, charged with child abuse.

The incident has sparked an online debate about parenting and bullying, and the extent to which a parent should go to protect a child.

"I shouldn't have done that," Piscitella wrote on Facebook Wednesday. "But you all do not even come close to understanding all the torment they have put my child through."

Her husband of 25 years, Jim, also called a reporter to say his wife made a mistake but only because she was protecting their daughter.

The boy's mother doesn't see it that way.

"I'm pretty disgusted by it," said Keysha Tipton, 38, a single mom who once taught classes on anger management and parenting. "A grown woman attacking a 14-year-old is just inexcusable to me. As an adult you know better."

More and more disagreements that start on Facebook and other social media sites are spilling into the real world, police say.

Police don't hear complaints about cyber-bullying.

They do get called to clean up the "aftermath," said St. Petersburg police spokesman Mike Puetz, "where tempers have frayed and where people have become upset, which sometimes leads to confrontation."

• • •

The drama started after the Piscitellas' daughter posted photos of herself at a concert on Facebook this past weekend.

On Monday, the boy made ugly, sexual comments about her appearance. The girl didn't know him. She did know his girlfriend.

Jim Piscitella, 47, said he got online and told the boy to knock it off. The boy responded with more explicit sexual comments about his daughter, an eighth-grader, he said.

"It was just vulgar," Jim Piscitella said. "It's just mean."

Later Monday, mother and daughter went to Tyrone Square Mall to pick out a dress for a school function. That's when they saw the boy.

"It was the perfect storm. There was no cooling off period," Jim Piscitella said. "It was just a stupid mistake."

Police said the boy had red marks on his neck afterward.

The Piscitellas shut down their daughter's Facebook page because of the incident.

Tipton, the boy's mother, said she wasn't able to see the comments her son posted because they had already been deleted by the time she found out about it.

"By all means, if my son needs to apologize for what he said, he will be apologizing," she said. "But regardless of how mad you get, you don't put your hands on anybody — especially a child."

• • •

Parents wanting to defend their children against bullies isn't new, Puetz said. But now the Internet allows them to see exactly what's being said.

"Every so often we will run into cases where parents will see these postings . . . and as parents are inclined to do, their first reaction is to go to the source," he said.

Parents instead should first work with schools or law enforcement, he said.

"Don't go and confront the child with it," he said. "Parents are going to take exception with you trying to discipline their kids."

Parents need to monitor their children online to avoid a situation like this, he said.

Yet in this case, both sets of parents say they did.

The Piscitellas say they have always monitored their daughter's Facebook, which is how they discovered the mean comments.

Tipton, the boy's mother, said she periodically goes through her son's friend list.

"Most people just add who they know. Teenagers add everybody," she said. "They don't teach a course on how to navigate your kid through Facebook or social media. It's challenging. It's hard to balance. . . . But she went overboard."

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