New York Times
For the Polk County Sheriff's Office, which has been investigating the cyberbullying suicide of a 12-year-old girl, the Facebook comment was impossible to disregard.
In Internet shorthand it began "Yes, ik" - I know - "I bullied Rebecca nd she killed herself." The writer concluded that she did not care, using an obscenity to make the point and a heart as a perverse flourish.
Five weeks ago, Rebecca Ann Sedwick, a seventh-grader in Lakeland, jumped to her death from an abandoned cement factory silo after enduring a year, on and off, of face-to-face and online bullying.
The Facebook post, Sheriff Grady Judd of Polk County said, was so offensive that he decided to move forward with the arrest immediately rather than continue to gather evidence. He sent his deputies Monday night to arrest two girls, calling them the "primary harassers."
The first, a 14-year-old, is the one who posted the comment Saturday, he said. The second is her friend, and Rebecca's former best friend, a 12-year-old.
Both were charged with aggravated stalking, a third-degree felony, and will be processed through the juvenile court system. Neither had an arrest record. The older girl was taken into custody in the juvenile wing of the Polk County Jail. The younger girl, who the officials said expressed remorse, was released to her parents under house arrest.
Originally, Judd said he had hoped to wait until he received data from two far-flung cellphone application companies, Kik Messenger and ask.fm, before moving forward.
"We learned this over the weekend, and we decided that, look, we can't leave her out there," Judd said, referring to the older girl. "Who else is she going to torment?"
He said the older girl told the police that her account had been hacked, and that she had not posted the comment.
"She forced this arrest today," Judd said.
Rebecca was bullied from December to February, according to the probable cause affidavit. But her mother, Tricia Norman, has said the bullying began long before then and continued until Rebecca killed herself.
The older of the two girls acknowledged to police that she had bullied Rebecca. She said she had sent Rebecca a Facebook message saying that "nobody" liked her, the affidavit said. The girl also texted Rebecca that she wanted to "fight" her, the police said.
But the bullying did not end there; Rebecca was told to "kill herself" and "drink bleach and die" among other things, the police added.
The bullying contributed to Rebecca's suicide, the sheriff said.
Brimming with outrage and incredulity, the sheriff said in a news conference Tuesday that he was stunned by the older girl's Saturday Facebook posting. But he reserved his harshest words for the girl's parents for failing to monitor her behavior, after she had been questioned by police, and for allowing her to keep her cellphone.
"I'm aggravated that the parents are not doing what parents should do: After she is questioned and involved in this, why does she even have a device?" Judd said. "Parents, who instead of taking that device and smashing it into a thousand pieces in front of that child, say her account was hacked."
The police said the dispute with Rebecca began over a boy.
"Watch what your children do online," Judd said. "Pay attention. Quit being their best friend and be their best parent."