More twists in Audrie Pott case
SAN JOSE — Audrie Pott thought everybody at her high school knew what happened that night.
The 15-year-old had been drinking during a Labor Day weekend party at a friend’s house in the pricey Silicon Valley suburb of Saratoga. She either fell asleep or passed out. And she woke up to something her family’s lawyer described as “unimaginable.”
“There were some markings on her body, in some sort of permanent marker, indicating that someone had violated her when she was sleeping,” attorney Robert Allard said Monday. On Audrie’s leg was a message, Allard said, that included a boy’s name and the words “was here.”
“They drew on her, in addition to doing what they did.”
And they — three 16-year-olds who had been Audrie’s friends since middle school — are suspected by authorities of taking at least one cellphone photo of the sophomore while she was unconscious and later showing it to 10 or more classmates.
A week after the party, Audrie killed herself.
The suspects, arrested Thursday, are scheduled to appear in juvenile court Tuesday on charges of misdemeanor sexual battery, felony distribution of child pornography and felony forcible sexual penetration in an incident that raises questions of exactly what cyber-bullying means.
The case made international headlines last week after Allard said that images had spread among students at Saratoga High “like wildfire” and at least one photo had been posted on the Internet. Parallels were made to high-profile cases in Nova Scotia and Steubenville, Ohio.
On Monday, however, Allard and Audrie’s family acknowledged that there probably was just one photo, and that it had not been posted on Facebook or widely distributed.
But as Audrie’s stepmother, Lisa Pott, said during an emotional news conference, flanked by enormous photos of the fresh-faced girl: So what?
“We don’t know if they were posted,” she said. “We do know that images were taken. … Audrie [likely] saw people huddled around cellphones. … In her opinion, the whole school was talking about it.”
Much is still not known about what really happened. Because the suspects are juveniles, their names have not been released. Their attorneys did not respond to calls for comment Monday. The Santa Clara County district attorney’s office has not talked about the case.
But Deputy Kurtis Stenderup, spokesman for the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department, confirmed that the three suspects were students at Saratoga High School when the incident occurred and that one of the youths had since transferred.
“Audrie committed suicide, and then we were told of a possible sexual assault that occurred,” Stenderup said in an interview Monday. “We’re working backward. We’re still trying to piece it together. …Multiple search warrants were written and served, and multiple computers and multiple cellphones were seized.”
Stenderup said officials “really are hampered” because “getting kids to cooperate is difficult.”
Allard and the Pott family on Monday urged anyone who had been to the party or seen the photo to come forward and cooperate with authorities.
In a statement released after the arrests, attorneys for the three suspects said that much of what had been reported in the media was inaccurate. What they described in the statement as “most disturbing” was “the attempt to link [Audrie’s] suicide to the specific actions of these three boys.”
On Monday, Allard said that statement had sent the Pott family “over the edge.”
“These boys distributed pictures to humiliate and further bully my daughter,” said Sheila Pott, Audrie’s mother. “These individuals calculated their assault, harassed the victim with the photos and then took steps to cover up the evidence.
“There was no remorse here. These were not the actions of a child but of a person whose values systems are so skewed that they will do this again.”
Lisa Pott said that the family “had no idea what happened to Audrie until after her memorial service.” But after talking with her friends, checking her Facebook account and looking at her cellphone, a picture began to emerge. The family started its own investigation.
“We were able to find statements made by Audrie herself in the last week of her life that draws a direct connection between her death and what the three young men did to her,” Lisa Pott said.
And then she read the young girl’s words, culled, she said, from messages Audrie had sent to her friends on Facebook:
“My life is over.”
“I’m in hell. Everyone knows about that night.”
“My life is ruined and I don’t even remember how.”
“I have a reputation for a night I don’t even remember and the whole school knows.”
The Pott family has said they will file a civil wrongful-death lawsuit and push for an “Audrie’s Law” to try to make sure that what happened to their daughter does not happen to any other child.
At Saratoga High, the original assertion that the whole school knew about events that unfolded at a party attended by about a dozen young people left some students angry.
In a posting on the San Jose Mercury News website, student Angela Luu said that “by stating that the pictures went on Facebook or went ‘viral,’ the media has falsely depicted Saratoga High as a heartless community that would laugh at the victim and sympathize with the abusers.”
“We are NOT like that,” she wrote. “We could have helped her, but we didn’t know what was going on.”
It was the school’s newspaper, the Saratoga Falcon, that first reported about 10 students on the campus of about 1,400 had been shown an image of Audrie at what Allard described as her most “vulnerable.”
On Monday, the Falcon’s student editors posted a message on their newspaper site saying that, even though the picture had not been widely distributed, it still constituted cyber-bullying because Audrie believed it was.
Which, said cyber-bullying expert Brendesha Tynes, is exactly the point.
“If a teenager felt that everyone else had that negative perception of them,” said Tynes, an associate professor at USC, “I could see it causing a person grave emotional damage, depressive symptoms, anxiety, suicidal thoughts — everything that we see Audrie Pott experiencing.”
La Ganga reported from San Jose and Mather from Los Angeles. Times staff writer Lee Romney in San Francisco contributed to this report.
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