We know Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd loves splashy news conferences, and sometimes they border on outrageous. Not this time, though.
Lest anyone criticize him for arresting, naming and sharing mug shots of two girls, ages 12 and 14, in a high-profile bullying case, let's remember the real victim.
It's not those girls.
Rebecca Ann Sedwick was 12 when she killed herself to escape relentless harassment. Judd says it came from the two girls who were arrested.
Rebecca is the victim. The other two are defendants.
They are charged with aggravated stalking, a third-degree felony. Florida law defines that as willfully, maliciously and repeatedly harassing or cyberstalking someone younger than 16.
The sheriff says that happened here, so he had to stand up and shout that there are big consequences for bullying, no matter how old you are. No one is better equipped for that job than Sheriff Sound Bite.
Besides the names and faces of the two girls, he shared the malicious text messages that Rebecca received, including this little gem: “Why are you still alive?”
The policy at The Tampa Tribune requires that we don't name the girls because of their age and the nature of the accusation against them. But plenty of people know the girls' names and what they look like because not all news outlets are so circumspect.
If nothing else, maybe getting their names and faces splashed all over will give the girls a little taste of what it feels like to be bullied. Still, these are just accusations.
The parents of the 14-year-old went on ABC's “Nightline” and claimed their daughter's Facebook account had to be hacked because they regularly monitored it and her phone, and never saw any threatening messages or posts.
That's why we have lawyers.
That's why we decide things in a court of law.
I wouldn't want to be the administrator at Crystal Lake Middle School who was informed about the problem but, according to Rebecca's mother, suggested it would all get better if the girl got a little tougher. What absurd advice.
Bullying has been going on forever, but it's different now. Schools know that. The threats don't end when the bell rings or the bus drops off a student. Through social media, the threats can follow the victim into their home. It's easier to raise a cybermob that can make an adolescent feel worthless.
Not everyone will get the message the good sheriff just sent.
In this copycat culture, there are probably kids out there right now thinking they, too, can become immortal by badgering someone until they crack.
But I hope Judd's message is being repeated in every school and every household with kids of this age. It's no game. There are laws that have to be obeyed and there are real-world penalties when you don't.
Some of them will listen.
One of them might be your kid.