Saturday, January 20, 2018
Public safety

Hudson teen's suicide puts spotlight on cyber-bullying

HUDSON — Jessica Laney's friends kept telling her to close her account on ask.fm, a social networking website where people can post anonymous questions on a person's profile. For months, Jessica — a beautiful, slender, 16-year-old soccer player — had been deluged with hate mail. Instead of questions, some people posted declarative sentences for the Fivay High School sophomore:

She was fat, she was mean, no one liked her.

Jessica canceled her account twice.

"We would tell her, 'Don't reactivate it,' " said one of her best friends, Lisa Arthur, 15. "But she would. She'd say, 'I just want to see what people are saying.'

"Sometimes the curiosity gets to you."

Last week, she met the toxic online taunting with retorts.

"Die," someone posted.

"Maybe later," Jessica wrote. "I'm to busy focusing on my future."

"you have pretty eyes but your fat," someone posted.

"awesome. but i'm not fat," she said.

"i don't like you," someone posted.

Jessica sent a video in response and said she didn't care. She winked and smiled.

"nobody even cares about you," someone wrote.

"yes they do," Jessica said.

"can you just kill youself already," someone wrote.

"why.." Jessica posted.

Lisa spoke with Jessica on Sunday morning. She sounded fine, happy, bubbly, like she usually did. They planned a bonfire party for the next weekend.

But, to the shock of Lisa and others, that evening Jessica committed suicide. According to District Six Medical Examiner Office office, Jessica hanged herself. She is the sixth teenager to commit suicide in Pasco County this year, a number that seems to be slowly rising. Last year there were five suicides of children ages 10 to 19 in Pasco, the medical examiner's office states. In 2010, there were two. In 2005, there was one.

The Pasco County Sheriff's Office is investigating her death. So far, there has been no evidence that Jessica was bullied at school or ever told any staffers at the school about the online bullying, said Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco.

"We are begging teenagers and their parents that, if bullying is occurring, to please let us know immediately," Nocco said.

He said students found to be bullying others can be charged with harassment or stalking. Nocco said investigators are working with the school system to research allegations Jessica was bullied online. He urges parents to keep strict watch on what their children are doing online, to look out for bullying and other dangers lurking on the Internet, such as sexual predators.

Jessica's death, he said, is a "tragic loss."

Angie Stone, the principal at Fivay, said Jessica was well liked and had many friends.

"You never saw her that she wasn't smiling," Stone said.

Mental health counselors have been on hand this week to help grieving students.

"Our main message to our students and our parents right now is that no problem is insurmountable," she said, "that there are always options and help is always available."

Sarah Ball, a 17-year-old Hernando High senior who created an anti-bullying organization last year called Unbreakable, said it's hard to escape the cruelties of cyberbullying. You see your tormentors during the day and then they attack you at night. She started cutting herself after being bullied online. On her birthday, one person sent her a text message saying, "It's sad to know you're still alive."

"It felt never-ending," she said.

She was helped when her mother found some email messages in which Sarah was being tormented. Her mother helped her raise her self-confidence. Sarah now tries to use her experience to help others — and to prevent suicides like Jessica's, if bullying was one of her reasons.

Lisa thinks it wasn't the only reason. But it was there.

"It was definitely a big, major part of why," she said.

Friends have created a Facebook page in Jessica's memory, warning of the dangers of cyber-bullying. Others have launched an online petition drive with the hope of shutting down the ask.fm site.

Jessica lived in Hudson, in a house with a huge yard and a Christmas wreath on the front door. She had a brother and loved shopping.

Her family declined to talk with the Times on Tuesday.

Jessica had struggled previously with depression, Lisa said. Jessica was taken into mental health custody in June after threatening to hang herself if her parents didn't let her leave the house, a Pasco Sheriff's report states. Her mother said Jessica was acting "out of character" and bit and punched her.

Lisa said she thought Jessica had healed from that time.

"Words hurt more than people think," Lisa said.

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this story. Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.

Comments

Four people linked to Tampa carjacking captured hours later

TAMPA — It took officers just 27 minutes Friday night to capture four people who they said stole a car from its owner.The incident started outside the Ybor Coffee Shop at 5:45 a.m. A group approached the driver as he sat in his 2010 Toyota Corolla. T...
Published: 01/19/18

Florida National Guard soldier killed, five injured in Sebring crash

SEBRING — A soldier with the Florida National Guard was killed and five others were hospitalized after a multi-vehicle crash on Friday, officials said.The crash took place at about 1 p.m. at the intersection of U.S. 27 and Hammock Road.The soldiers ...
Published: 01/19/18
Two New Port Richey men accused of stealing $11,000 in cellphone merchandise

Two New Port Richey men accused of stealing $11,000 in cellphone merchandise

NEW PORT RICHEY — Two New Port Richey men face charges after Pasco County deputies say they stole about $11,000 worth of cellphones and cellphone equipment at a Metro PCS store on State Road 54.Robert Jackson and Ronald Hartshorn were arrested Wednes...
Published: 01/19/18
Autopsy: drugs found in MLB star Roy Halladay’s system after plane crash

Autopsy: drugs found in MLB star Roy Halladay’s system after plane crash

When former Major League Baseball pitcher Roy Halladay died in a plane crash in November, he had amphetamines, morphine and the sleep aid zolpidem in his system, according to an autopsy report. Halladay, 40, died from blunt force trauma with drownin...
Published: 01/19/18
Former youth football president accused of stealing $29,000 from Pinellas league

Former youth football president accused of stealing $29,000 from Pinellas league

PALM HARBOR — The former president of a local youth football league is accused of stealing thousands of dollars from the group and using it in part to buy a mobile home.According to the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, deputies on Tuesday arrested L...
Published: 01/19/18
Rapper Kodak Black arrested in Florida on grand theft, other charges

Rapper Kodak Black arrested in Florida on grand theft, other charges

FORT LAUDERDALE — Rapper Kodak Black has been ordered held without bail in Florida on seven felony charges that include child neglect and drug possession.The Broward Sheriff’s Office arrested the 20-year-old rapper, whose real name is Dieuson Octave,...
Published: 01/19/18
DUI arrest: Tampa man mistakes bank drive-through for Taco Bell

DUI arrest: Tampa man mistakes bank drive-through for Taco Bell

SPRING HILL — A 38-year-old Tampa man was arrested Wednesday on a charge of driving under the influence involving drugs or alcohol after deputies said he mistook a Bank of America drive-through for a Taco Bell.The branch manager of the Mariner Boulev...
Published: 01/18/18
Updated: 01/19/18
Police presence at Martin Luther King Jr. Day after-party raises ire

Police presence at Martin Luther King Jr. Day after-party raises ire

ST. PETERSBURG — One after another, speakers stepped to the lectern at City Hall on Thursday and described the same image: police cruisers on every corner in Midtown, uniformed officers lined up across the roadway, souring what should have been a joy...
Published: 01/18/18
Tropical Breeze patron rides shuttle to check on crew

Tropical Breeze patron rides shuttle to check on crew

PORT RICHEY — Loretta Santini was one of a small group of customers boarding a Tropical Breeze Casino shuttle Thursday afternoon as the company sailed for the first day since another of its shuttle boats burned to the water Sunday, killing one woman....
Published: 01/18/18
Police: ‘Man-bun bandit’ seen stealing packages from Clearwater home

Police: ‘Man-bun bandit’ seen stealing packages from Clearwater home

Clearwater Police are searching for a "man-bun bandit" who is seen stealing packages from a residence.Police on Thursday tweeted this video of the suspect, who is seen attempting to balance multiple packages while gathering them at a home on Majestic...
Published: 01/18/18