Rebecca Sedwick had been terrorized for more than a year by girls who used to be her friends, Polk County authorities say.
She tried to get away, but Rebecca couldn't escape their hateful words relayed across social media: "You should die," someone told the 12-year-old. "Why don't you go kill yourself?"
On Sept. 9, Rebecca did just that — jumping to her death from a tower at an abandoned cement plant near her home in Lakeland.
Funeral services were held in Polk County on Monday, where Rebecca's friends wore bright clothes to honor the girl known for her cheery attitude, according to media reports.
In the week since Rebecca took her own life, the case, which highlights the dangers and realities of cyberbullying, has reverberated across the country.
Gone are the days when spiteful words and banter between students was traded in middle-school bathroom stalls and by notes passed in the hallways.
About 20 percent of young people have been the victim of cyberbullying, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center, a clearinghouse of information on cyberbullying co-founded by college professors. About 15 percent of teens have admitted they have bullied or ridiculed others on social media, photo-sharing and other websites.
"It's now 24-7. It's not just something you can escape after the school day," said Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center.
Polk Sheriff Grady Judd said it didn't appear as though Rebecca fought back when she was relentlessly bullied.
"She appeared to be beat down," Judd said. "She appeared to have a defeatist attitude."
Detectives are questioning several youth who had been in contact with Rebecca and have seized cell phones and laptops. It's unclear what criminal charge they may face, if any.
Cyberbullying not illegal
In Florida, cyberbullying is not considered a criminal offense. However, cyberstalking is.
It is unclear how many young people have been charged in Central Florida with cyberstalking — a statute that would also cover adults who make online threats against each other.
Florida's cyberbullying statute is a civil one, aimed at giving school systems guidelines for dealing with the issue. It requires public schools to adopt policies regarding cyberbullying and the harassment of students or employees. The law allows schools to discipline students for their off-campus harassment.
In Orange County, each school has its own program, a district spokeswoman said. And school resource officers from the Orange County Sheriff's Office teach fifth-grade students about cyberbullying as part of the MAGIC program — which stands for Mentoring, Advising, Guiding, Instructing Children.
But online awareness education should extend beyond the school system, experts say.
Marcia Ellis, children and youth program manager for the National Crime Prevention Council, said parents, teachers and community service agencies need to work together to educate young people about acceptable online behavior.
"Some parents need to be educated as well as to what cyberbullying is and how hurtful it is," Ellis said. "The more that we talk about this topic...the better able we are to address it with children and youth and get them to understand that bullying and cyberbullying are not acceptable behaviors."
Last fateful text
Judd said during a news conference about Rebecca's death investigation last week that it appears the bullying began in 2012 while she was a student at Crystal Lake Middle School.
In December, Rebecca's mom noticed cuts on her wrist. Rebecca told her mother it was because she was being bullied, Judd said. The girl was hospitalized and held temporarily under the state's Baker Act.
But the bullying continued when Rebecca returned to school, Judd said. Rebecca's mother decided to home-school her daughter, and eventually she transferred to Lawton Chiles Middle Academy.
Still, Judd said, detectives found evidence Rebecca continued to be bullied on social media.
When Rebecca's mother last saw her daughter on the evening of Sept. 8, the 12-year-old was texting, Judd said.
At 7:37 a.m. the following day, Rebecca posted a message to a 12-year-old North Carolina boy whom she reportedly met once at the airport: "I'm jumping and I can't take it anymore," the text read, according to Judd.
The boy never told anyone his online friend was suicidal.
Friends told deputies searching for Rebecca that she was known for hanging out at the abandoned cement plant near U.S. Highway 92.
Detectives found her body there. It's not clear which tower she jumped from, authorities said, but she could have taken as much as a 60-foot fall.
"It was one of the saddest situations that I've seen," Judd said.
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10 tips for responding to cyberbullying
Talk about it: Tell someone if you're the target of cyberbullying — your parents, a friend, teacher.
Ignore them: Cyberbullies who do not get a response from their target may just move on.
Never retaliate: Retaliation does nothing to solve the problem and could get you in trouble.
Tell them to stop: Let them know that what they are doing is hurtful, lame and uncool.
Laugh: Try to laugh it off — maybe they are just trying to be funny and not hurtful.
Save the evidence: Print out Facebook messages, emails; save text messages.
Block access: Most websites and programs allow you to block certain users from messaging or even "seeing" you online.
Report it: If you don't know who the cyberbully is, contact the content provider (Facebook, Google, YouTube) and make a report.
Never pass it along: If you receive hurtful or embarrassing messages or photos of someone else, delete them and don't share them with friends.
Call the police: If you feel you are in danger, call the police.