Phoebe Prince, the teenager who killed herself in January after allegedly being viciously bullied at her Massachusetts high school, had a history of problems including a previous suicide attempt, according to new research into the case – raising questions about the culpability of the six teens now charged in her death.
Emily Bazelon of Slate.com has been reviewing the South Hadley, Mass., case since February. In a new story about her investigation, she writes that Prince, 15, was "deeply troubled long before she ever met the six defendants" and that she was a participant in – not just a victim of – the social dramas at the school in the months before her death.
According to interviews with her mother and others, Prince had a history of cutting herself dating to 2008, when she was in boarding school in Ireland, and was hospitalized for a week last November after reportedly swallowing a bottle of pills.
Speaking on NBC's Today show Wednesday, Bazelon said that while Prince's suicide was tragic, her troubled past raises new questions about whether the six teens – including three 16-year-old girls who face felony charges – can be held responsible for it.
"It's more complicated than the idea of a predatory pack of kids descending on her," Bazelon says.
Too Aggressive?In companion stories, Bazelon explores two questions that further complicate the case – whether the district attorney was too aggressive with the charges relative to the facts in the case, and whether the school could have done more to prevent the bullying.
Asked on Today whether she believes a criminal case should proceed, Bazelon replies: "It's really hard for me to see how that's the solution in this case. Which isn't to say that terrible bullying didn't happen here or that this death isn't tragic. Just the notion of criminally charging six teenagers in a way that blames them for the death of a girl who had this much more complicated history, that seems really questionable to me."
Bazelon says the community might simply have overreacted in a time of shock and grief. "This is a really sad, awful thing, and I think we do have this strong impulse to want to point fingers and have this clear explanation, a very clear, black-and-white narrative for what happened in this case," she says. "And it's just more complicated than that."