SAINT LEO — A Saint Leo University event next week featuring the director of an award-winning documentary about bullying is coming to the area at an apt time, as the tragic effects of bullying have shocked area communities in recent months.
In December, Jessica Laney, a 16-year-old Hudson teen and Fivay High School sophomore, hanged herself at her home. Her death shocked friends, who noted she had been taunted by cyber bullies.
In January, 12-year-old Miguel Rodriguez was found dead in his Spring Hill home. The sensitive West Hernando Middle School seventh-grader killed himself, his mother says, because he was continually tormented by bullies.
And on Friday, Chase Cristia, 16, was attacked by a fellow J.W. Mitchell High School student on her school bus. The female attacker repeatedly pummeled Chase in the back of her head while another student videotaped the beating. The video was posted to Facebook and went viral. Chase's attacker and the girl who videotaped the beating were arrested Tuesday.
At 7 p.m. Feb. 12, director Lee Hirsch will be speaking at Saint Leo University about his documentary called Bully, which follows five children and families through the course of a school year, giving a startling window into the lives of children being tormented and the frustration of parents trying to get help. Hirsch, a Sundance Film Festival and Emmy Award-winner, will answer questions at the event. His film will be shown the day before, at 8:30 p.m. Feb. 11, on campus. Both events are free and open to the public.
University spokeswoman Jo-Ann Johnston said the Saint Leo officials talked last year about how bullying had been an increasingly spoken of and researched topic. Not only would an event with Hirsch help the students and community, Johnston said, but the university teaches many future educators who would need to know this information.
"We thought Lee Hirsch would be important to bring here," she said.
Tammy Zacchilli, an assistant professor of psychology at Saint Leo who has researched cyber bullying, said it's difficult to tell whether bullying is on the rise because so many incidents aren't reported. She urges parents to monitor their children's computer use and to be aware of changes in behavior and mood.
"A lot of times kids don't tell their parents what's going on," she said.
Erin Sullivan can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6229.