When a child dies a preventable death, there is a primal demand for justice.
Such is the case with the death, slightly more than a month ago, of Rebecca Ann Sedwick, a 12-year-old Polk County brunette with a winsome smile.
Rebecca committed suicide after enduring more than a year of online taunting on the Internet, including — according to law enforcement reports — calls for her to take her own life.
Tragically, she did.
The case has drawn national attention, as indeed it should. Though not without precedent, Rebecca’s suicide was one of the most dramatic demonstrations of what can result from bullying on this relatively new communication venue known as social media.
The Polk County Sheriff’s Office, which reported that a dozen or so schoolmates taunted Rebecca, announced this week the arrest of two children — one 14 years old, the other 12 — on felony charges of aggravated stalking.
The 14-year-old reportedly made an online post last Saturday boasting that her taunting resulted in Rebecca’s death, and asserting in a crude online abbreviation that she felt no remorse.
For investigators, that was the last straw.
An investigation that eventually would have led to arrests moved forward more quickly, and the two girls were arrested.
The dispute, not surprisingly, was over a romantic relationship with a boy. The 12-year-old defendant reportedly had been a friend of the victim, but was turned against her by the 14-year-old.
With the filing of felony charges against the two adolescents, numerous questions arise:
• How does society impose effective discipline against children so young (assuming their guilt is established in a court of law)?
• Why were not charges filed against the other youngsters who reportedly participated in the taunting?
• Are parents somehow complicit for failing to pick up on such tragedies in the making? And if so, how are parents expected to know everything their kids are saying on social media?
• Is encouragement to commit suicide protected by the First Amendment, or does it come under the exception commonly expressed as: Shouting “Fire!” in a crowded theater?
• Is such online taunting protected in the same sense that an adult can forward an email, like the one we received a few weeks ago, encouraging anyone who did not forward the screed to “Bury your head in the sand and take a deep breath”? The felony arrests give clear notice that even on social media, there is a limit to the tolerance for abusive conduct.
Beyond that, there are no simple answers.
Children are fragile; they deserve, and receive under our system of laws, an extra measure of protection. That principle applies both to victims and perpetrators.
It is a complicated question for which we have no answer: Where lies justice for Rebecca Ann Sedwick?