Two 12-year-olds have been charged with cyberstalking in connection with the death of Surfside Middle School student Gabriella Green, who committed suicide two weeks ago.
PANAMA CITY BEACH, Fla. — Two 12-year-olds have been charged with cyberstalking in connection with the death of Surfside Middle School student Gabriella Green, who committed suicide two weeks ago.
The arrests came as the result of an investigation by Panama City Beach Police into the mitigating circumstances around her death on Jan. 10. According to a news release, PCBPD was made aware of potential cyberbullying against Gabbie, which led them to examine several cell phones and social media accounts.
Through that investigation, PCBPD developed two 12-year-old suspects, who were then interviewed and allegedly confessed to engaging in cyberbullying conduct, knowing that their behavior would cause Gabbie emotional distress.
Because they are juveniles, their names were not released, but Gabbie’s parents confirmed it is a male and female who were charged.
While Gabbie’s parents have maintained that cyberbullying by classmates at Surfside Middle School directly led to Gabbie’s death, PCBPD said in a statement their investigation did not reveal that was the sole cause of Gabbie’s death, just that it was occurring at the time of her death. An official ruling on her cause of death has not yet been released by the Medical Examiner’s Office.
Tanya Green, Gabbie’s mother, said the arrests were “gratifying” after her daughter had to suffer in silence “with a smile on her face.” But she and her husband maintain that blame still lies with the parents and the school system.
“It’s going to help others at her school,” Green said. “It’s going to start at her school. It’s going to help others around the world.”
In their release, PCBPD warned against allowing children and teenagers unrestricted access to social media and the internet, saying during their investigation, they found several middle school-aged children with “unmonitored access to several social media platforms.”
“These specific cell phone applications have been found to be the root of several dangerous and negative situations, such as cyberbullying, sexting and potential access by online predators,” the release read.
Some parents believe more has to be done at the schools.
Outside Surfside Middle School Monday morning, a handful of parents held signs against bullying and chiding the school’s administration for what they said was a lack of action taken against bullying.
“Almost every parent here, their child has been bullied at this school,” said Amy Strout, who has helped organize a Facebook group seeking justice for Gabbie. “This could have been my kid. This could have been their kid.”
Many of the parents said they want to see action taken against the Surfside administration. Superintendent Bill Husfelt said in a statement on Monday the school district would not comment on any internal investigations at the school until they have had time to review PCBPD’s statement and investigation.
“We continue to mourn the loss of Gabbie and our hearts go out to her family, her friends and to everyone at Surfside Middle School,” Husfelt said. “This is an absolutely tragic situation and our counselors have been at Surfside since we first found out about Gabbie’s death. The counselors have been, and will continue to be, an invaluable resource for the students and faculty and staff at this difficult time, and they will be available as long as they are needed.”
Others at the rally hoped Gabbie’s death would help parents open up a dialogue with their children on empathy and bullying. Many of them blamed social media but also took aim at parents for letting their children use sites unmonitored and without talking to them about the consequences of their actions.
“The parents need to step up and take care of their kids who are the bullies,” said Nicole Ricker. “Stop the hatred. It’s costing us our babies’ lives.”
Dawn Graff hoped that inside one of the hundreds of cars driving by their small demonstration on Nautilus Street and Back Beach Road was a child who was being bullied that saw their signs and knew someone cared about them.
“If it helps one kid that maybe drives by here and sees our sign and knows that somebody cares, maybe they’ll come forward,” she said. “Then it’s worth it.”
PCBPD said in its release that it plans to host a training on cyberbullying, cyberstalking and social media for parents, and it urged parents who believe their child is being cyberbullied to contact the department.
Eryn Dion is a reporter for The Panama City (Fla.) News Herald.