Yesterday, I blogged about Sharon Chanon Velazquez, one of the teens accused of bullying Phoebe Prince. Well, what a surprise! Yesterday, five of the six defendants who are being charged in connection with this case also admitted to lesser charges in order to avoid the more serious charges facing them.
Sharon Chanon Velazquez, Kayla Narey, Ashley Longe, Flannery Mullins, and Sean Mulveyhill faced felony and misdemeanor charges, which include civil rights violations, causing bodily injury, criminal harassment, and disruption of a school assembly. According to a source directly involved in this case, the five of them will be allowed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of harassment, thus avoiding all of these more serious charges.
Additionally, Flannery and Velazquez faced stalking charges and Mulveyhill was being charged with statutory rape. These charges will also be dropped under the agreement.
If the pleas are approved by the judge, the teens will probably receive probation, although they could receive up to 2 ½ years in jail. Other charges may remain: Longe is charged with assaulting Prince by throwing an energy drink in an aluminum can at her, and Austin Renaud still faces statutory rape charges. At this point, Renaud’s lawyer hasn’t been discussing a possible deal.
All but Renaud have court dates either on May 5 or 6. Renaud has a pretrial conference scheduled for July 6.
Phoebe Prince’s family could not be reached for comment. But one can only assume they are heartbroken as they face the likelihood that little will be done to punish those who played a role in their daughter’s tortured existence and eventual suicide.
And what about other parents at South Hadley High School who have rallied around this family? They are appropriately outraged by the news from yesterday.
“I think it’s horrible,” said Dawn Berard, the mother of a student at South Hadley High School, where Prince was a 15-year-old Irish transfer student. “This case was like the shot heard around the world. It got people thinking about bullying. And because of that, all eyes are on these kids. (Authorities) need to send the message that if you bully someone to death, you will face the consequences.”
“If Judge Daniel Swords accepts the plea deals, he should order them to speak out against bullying in schools,” said parent Barrie Chambers-Leonard. “There’s a girl in a grave in Ireland.”
A few short months before Phoebe Prince committed suicide, Barbara Coloroso, an expert on bullying, had lectured about bullying at the school. Asked about this case, she stated that any sentence should include “restitution, resolution, and reconciliation.”
She explained that the only way these teens will learn from their mistakes is if they publicly admit what they did, make sure that any and all derogatory remarks that were made about Prince on the Internet are removed, even if they have to pay someone to do it, and they need to speak to other teens regarding the mistakes they made publicly in schools in order to send a different message to teens about bullying. Finally, she said these teens must find a way to reach out to the Prince family in order to express their remorse.
Coloroso added, “I have never believed in the fist of vengeance, but I also want them held accountable.”
The sad truth is that if these teens are not admitting to everything that they did, if they are still covering up their vicious behavior and the roles they played in Phoebe’s suicide, hiding behind the lesser charge of harassment, it is extremely unlikely that “restitution, resolution, and reconciliation” are going to occur.
How will probation wake kids like this up? What message will be sent by this weak punishment? Where is the accountability, and how is this court sending a message that will make other kids stop and think before they bully others?
I am disheartened tonight to read this news. An opportunity to teach young children about accountability has been lost. And I am so deeply angry that a family, who has had to endure the worst possible tragedy, will continue to feel the hopelessness and pain that they have felt ever since their daughter had the misfortune of colliding with these viciously relentless bullies.