By Matt Pearce
12:40 PM PDT, September 12, 2013
The police found her at an abandoned cement plant at 2:30 a.m. on Tuesday. They were too late.
There were a few different ledges at the plant from which 12-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick, of Lakeland, Fla., could have jumped. One ledge reached up about 19 feet; another, about 24 feet; a third offered a 60-foot plunge to the ground.
In the end, the ledge she may have chosen does not matter, officials said: Rebecca had almost certainly jumped to her death, chased to that abandoned lot by a vicious, relentless cloud of cyberbullying that had followed her out of one school already and never let her go.
“We can see from what we've investigated so far that Rebecca wasn’t attacking back," Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told reporters Thursday. "She appeared to be beat down. She appeared to have a defeatist attitude. And quite frankly, the entire investigation is exceptionally disturbing to the entire investigative team.”
The harassment began in 2012 over a boy, Judd said. Girls who used to be Rebecca's friends turned against her; at one point, she got in a fight with one that resulted in her getting suspended.
Her friends said she felt "terrorized"; her mom pulled her out of her school, homeschooled her for a while, and placed her in another school. She finally disappeared early Monday morning on the way to the bus stop for school, officials said. She'd left her books at home, and never got on the bus.
"There were a lot of interventions that occurred," Judd said. "There were multiple interventions by the school, by the hospital, by counselors, by parents, by the sheriff's office. There were interventions that were attempted, but it just didn't work."
Rebecca's mom, Tricia Norman, told a local Fox affiliate that she'd deleted her daughter's Facebook account but kept finding other social apps on her daughter's phone where bullying was still happening.
Rebecca reportedly got messages that said “Why are you still alive?” and “Go kill yourself."
After her death, investigators were also confronted by the dark, tell-tale questions she was asking over search engines.
“'What is overweight for a 13-year-old girl?' " said Judd, quoting the searches, which detailed a girl's hidden litany of despair.
"Another question she asked was, 'how to get blades out of razors.' Another question she asked was, 'how many Advil do you need to take to die?' Another question was, 'how many over the counter drugs do you take to die.' Another one was 'what not to say to a cutter.' "
Judd added, "At the end of the day, it wasn’t a physical schoolyard fight that was the demise of this child. It was the bullying online.”
Florida has a school antibullying statute that's intended to guard against such harassment, and officials have seized the phones and laptops of Rebecca's friends and former friends for the investigation into her death.
“Our detectives have identified several juveniles of interest, at least 15 who ran in Rebecca’s Internet circle, or social media circle, and we’re in the process of talking to all of them," Judd said, adding that their parents have been cooperative.
“It makes the case much more easy to investigate," Judd said. "It’s important to point out that these parents have shown a real concern for Rebecca and this tragedy."
Rebecca's mother, speaking with a local TV reporter, added, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do next. I just lost my world. ... Don’t ignore your kids if they seem fine – still check on them, because you don’t know what’s going on with them.”
Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times