Two girls have been arrested in the death of a 12-year-old Lakeland girl who authorities said committed suicide after being bullied by several girls for nearly a year.
Polk Sheriff Grady Judd said the girls, ages 14 and 12, faces charges of felony aggravated stalking that resulted in the Sept. 9 suicide of Rebecca Ann Sedwick, who jumped to her death from a tower at an abandoned concrete plant.
They were arrested Monday night and released to their parents' custody. On Tuesday, both of the girls had a first appearance before a judge, who released the 12-year-old to her parents but remanded the 14-year-old into custody.
Judd said the arrests were hastened after a posting Saturday on the 14-year-old's Facebook account stating she had no remorse over Rebecca's death.
“Yes I bullied Rebecca and she killed herself but IDGAF,” an acronym for “I don't give a f---,” the post read.
Deputies then became concerned she would bully others.
“We decided that we can't leave her out there,” Judd said Tuesday at a news conference. “Who else is she going to torment, who else is she going to harass?”
TBO.com is not identifying the suspects because of their age and because they are not charged with committing a violent act.
However, Judd identified the girls and said the bullying was a “contributing” factor in Rebecca's death.
According to arrest affidavits, the two girls repeatedly harassed Rebecca, beginning after the 14-year-old started dating Rebecca's former boyfriend.
She “didn't like that and began to harass and ultimately torment Rebecca,” Judd said.
The bullying took place from December 2012 through February 2013 while all three were attending Crystal Lake Middle School, the affidavits show. Rebecca's mother previously said the bullying became so bad she home-schooled her daughter the rest of the semester and Rebecca began attending Chiles Middle School this fall.
The harrassment continued on social media, Judd said.
During the investigation, several students said both girls bullied Rebecca on different occasions through name-calling, intimidation, threats to beat her up and at least one physical fight.
During the incidents, witnesses told detectives, Rebecca would walk away from the older girl, who also bullied Rebecca's friends.
The 14-year-old also coerced the other suspect — a former best friend of Rebecca's — to initiate a fight with Rebecca, deputies said. Rebecca did not fight back and was “beat up,” according to the affidavit. The fight was documented by school officials.
Deputies said the older suspect sent messages on social media to Rebecca telling her to “drink bleach and die,” that she was ugly and she should kill herself.
The younger suspect has said she was sorry for bullying Rebecca, deputies said. Her remorse and cooperation with authorities played a part in the judge not remanding her into custody. She is on home detention and not allowed to attend school, the sheriff's office said.
“At this time these are the two primary harassers,” Judd said. They are the two stalkers. They are the two bulliers.”
Judd had a message for parents and children: Such harassment must end.
“We have to stop this,” Judd said. “As a child I was told sticks and stones can break your bones but words can never hurt me. … Today's words stick because they're printed. And words are as hurtful - and sometimes more hurtful - as sticks and stones.”
Judd was not pleased that the girls' parents did not take away their access to social media or discipline the girls after questioning by detectives. He said detectives would charge the parents if they could find reason.
“I'm aggravated that the parents are not doing what parents are supposed to do,” he said. “Had the parents done that early, maybe Rebecca would be alive.”
Orlando attorney David Hill said detectives may be able to pursue contributing to the delinquency of a minor charge for the parents, if they knew their daughters were bullying Rebecca yet did nothing about it.
But it "will be easy to defend since the parents are going to say, 'We didn't know anything about it,' " said Hill, who is not involved in the case.
He said neither of the suspects' families cooperated with investigators, so deputies then went to their homes to make the arrests.
Judd advised all parents to quit being a best friend and instead be a “best parent.”
“Parents, you be responsible so you discipline your children and we don't have to,” he said. “… We have to change the behavior of these children.”
Judd said the 14-year-old was “very cold, had no emotion at all upon her arrest.”
Her father, reached by telephone, told The Associated Press that his daughter was “a good girl” and he was “100 percent sure that whatever they're saying about my daughter is not true.”
A message left at the 12-year-old's Lakeland home was not immediately returned and no one answered the door.
Judd said the investigation has been delayed by the inability to get information from social media apps Kick and AskFM. The sheriff's office had been working through the federal government to get this accomplished, and the investigation is ongoing.
The aggravated stalking charges would be third-degree felonies if the girls were adults, Judd said.
They girls will be tried as juveniles, Judd said.
Authorities have said Rebecca was harassed by as many as 15 girls who ganged up on her and picked on her for months through online message boards and texts. Some of those girls' computers and cellphones were seized in the investigation.
"Rebecca's mother went above and beyond to create interventions. The one issue that Rebecca's mom said to us was, 'I just didn't want to have her not like me, so I wanted to give her access to her cellphone so she could talk to her friends,'" Judd said. "Rebecca's family is absolutely devastated by this. Quite frankly, we're all devastated by this."
Judd said charges against others involved in the case may be forthcoming.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.