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9 MA Cyberbullies Indicted For Causing Suicide 709

Posted by Soulskill
from the this-is-why-you-don't-listen-to-the-internet dept.
Raul654 writes "Massachusetts teenager Phoebe Prince committed suicide on January 14. After her death, it was revealed that she had been the target of cyberbullying for months (and that her teachers were aware of it and did nothing). Today, nine of her classmates were indicted on charges including harassment, stalking, civil rights violations, and statutory rape. Prince's suicide echoes the earlier case of Megan Meier, who committed suicide after being cyberbullied by a classmate's mother."
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9 MA Cyberbullies Indicted For Causing Suicide

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  • by LostCluster (625375) * on Monday March 29, 2010 @06:19PM (#31663180)

    This has nothing to do with Facebook, Flicker, FourSquare, Twitter, or any other Web 2.0 website. This happened at school, during school hours, and with the school having knowledge that that something was going on. This is a first round of charges, there could be more including some of the adults who could have taken action. Dating a senior football player and being the "new girl" led to her being teased and hated... leading to violence, leading to a situation where she saw no way out. This should have been cut off with detentions and suspensions long before it got this far.

    I'm pretty sure the lawyers in this case are going to pull all the Web 2.0 content created by the students involved. If they go down this path and find something that can be treated as a confession, then it's "News for nerds." or "Stuff that matters." Until we see that, it's more like the 6pm news here in the Boston area.

    • by tarun713 (782737) on Monday March 29, 2010 @06:32PM (#31663324)
      FTA: "According to students, Phoebe was called 'Irish slut' and 'whore' on Twitter, Craigslist, Facebook and Formspring."
      • by Opportunist (166417) on Monday March 29, 2010 @08:45PM (#31664808)

        And that changes ... what exactly?

        Oh, the difference is that the whole world could see it instead of just everyone that knows her? Newsflash: THE WORLD DOESN'T GIVE A SHIT. Does anyone here (provided he doesn't know her) care whether she's called an Irish slut? Call her an Italian dyke for all I care.

        That is in NO way different from "offline" bullying. Whether "the whole world" knows or just the people that know her does not change a thing. Except that in this case there's hard evidence of it happening, compared to the bullying and mobbing that went on when we went to school. If a teenager killed himself before the onset of the internet craze, it was easily blamed on something else and shifted on ... rock music or whatever was the applicable scapegoat. The school could easily claim they didn't have a clue and the bullies certainly didn't come forward.

        The difference is not that it's now "world wide known". The difference is that there's evidence now. And I fear the reaction will be to attempt to eliminate that evidence rather than stop the bullying.

        It's easier to do.

        • by nog_lorp (896553) on Monday March 29, 2010 @10:32PM (#31665732)

          You are viewing this in a much more practical way than a teenage girl or boy does.

          If I read online that some girl is an "Irish whore", I'm going to jump thoughts of hot redheads with loose morals - a complement!

          In reality, no one cares what someone says on the internet. But to a teen being bullied it is the difference between being beaten up in an alley
          and being picked on in the high school quad in front of a jeering crowd.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mcgrew (92797) *

        The poor girl was PHYSICALLY beaten and raped; that didn't happen on FaceBook. What happened online was trivial, what happened at school was horrendous.

        What I find most appalling about this whole mess was that the bullying took place at school and the school officials did nothing, yet none were charged or disciplined.

        The principal shoulc be in jail with the kids. He let her down more than anybody. Hopefully this waste of tax dollars (the principal) will be economically castrated in a lawsuit by her parents.

    • by sg_oneill (159032) on Monday March 29, 2010 @06:46PM (#31663478)

      It does highlight something that really worries me about this case. As a kid I copped a bit of bullying myself, at least till I got big enough to fight back, but I came to the conclusion that kids are, well, shitheads, and that most hopefully grow out of it.

      Whats disturbing, is that the adults did nothing to protect this poor girl when it should have been immediately obvious she was being victimized. Sometimes when your being bullied, simply having an older kid or adult take your side can be immensely comforting.

      When I was around 25 I used to catch a public bus to work, and every morning this scruffy young kid would be on the bus being teased and taunted till I decided to intervene, picked up one of his tormentors and physically launched him off the bus then let the kid sit next to me from that point on. I told the bullies that I would hunt down and beat senselessly any kid that bullied my new little mate, and within a couple of weeks the kid stopped being bullied. I gave the kid a bit of friendship and kind of explained how to work on his goofy demeanor, and within a year he was a reasonably popular kid himself.

      All it takes is someone to care about these kids. To give a damn about them. Show some genuine concern for these kids, and they'll shine. They always do

      • by JustShootMe (122551) * <rmiller@duskglow.com> on Monday March 29, 2010 @06:51PM (#31663546) Homepage Journal

        What surprises me is that you weren't arrested for assault.

        • by religious freak (1005821) on Monday March 29, 2010 @07:37PM (#31664032)
          I'm kind of surprised too, though I wish I wasn't. Sometimes the only way to deal with a shithead is to be the crap out of them
          • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Monday March 29, 2010 @07:39PM (#31664062)

            I'm kind of surprised too, though I wish I wasn't. Sometimes the only way to deal with a shithead is to be the crap out of them

            Holy existential typo batman!

        • by Anachragnome (1008495) on Monday March 29, 2010 @07:41PM (#31664084)

          Sometimes you have to take risks to do what is right.

      • by donaggie03 (769758) <d_osmeyer.hotmail@com> on Monday March 29, 2010 @06:52PM (#31663564)
        Try that now and you're more likely to get arrested for assault or child abuse... or shot.
        • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 29, 2010 @07:55PM (#31664252)

          True, and that is probably the reason many people do not intervene these days. If you do the right thing and step in then you have to be careful you don't open yourself to some legal liability. It happens all the time in our school system and so all we are left with is apathetic teachers and officials who will not take the appropriate actions.

      • Whats disturbing, is that the adults did nothing to protect this poor girl when it should have been immediately obvious she was being victimized. Sometimes when your being bullied, simply having an older kid or adult take your side can be immensely comforting.

        When I was a kid, nothing disillusioned me about authority figures more than the misguided attempts of school administrators to interfere when I was being bullied. Keep in mind that I went to great lengths to avoid being bullied (sometimes by groups of kids) and sometimes this meant breaking school rules (like going through a hole in the fence around the school during lunch when I was being chased). The school administrators came out against me all too often. Once one principle even brought out boxing gloves and told us we had better fight it out with gloves on.

        Looking back at it, I can see where the administrators were coming from but that doesn't make them any less wrong. I don't even really appreciate the attempts by some teachers to bribe one of the worst of the bullies with candy bars (so that he wouldn't bully me).

        The further sad fact is that nobody can address bullying effectively when it happens, say, when the kid is walking home from school. So what are you gonna do? I did well because I had parents who were willing to discuss the matter with me and provide proper role models. But generally they didn't go to the teachers or administrators about the problems, which was a good thing given how bad of a mess the school officials generally made of things when they got involved.

        The solution here is parenting. And while I find the lack of action by school officials disturbing, I wonder if they would have made things worse by getting involved. In reality they probably should have gotten in touch with the girl's parents proactively and discussed the situation.

        • by Asclepius99 (1527727) on Monday March 29, 2010 @07:14PM (#31663774)
          I can understand what you're trying to say, but the teachers saw kids hit the girl in the hallways. It doesn't matter if it's constant bullying or a one time incident, how does that go on without any sort of reprimand?
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by bipbop (1144919)
        As a particularly geeky product of the public school system, I'm really, really NOT surprised that there was no intervention.
    • by Derekloffin (741455) on Monday March 29, 2010 @06:57PM (#31663614)
      One the prime reasons that cyber bullying is of particular focus now is that you simply can't escape it. The old style 'give me your lunch money' bully had very little presence at home. If said bully did try to take it home, it was generally in ways that annoyed the parents just as much as the kid (crank calls and the like), which often lead to more action on their part. Now, cyber bullying allows them to hit you even at home, and in ways that can often go unnoticed by the parents, not only of the victim, but of the bully's parents. Not sure what we can do about it, but I wouldn't equate this to a typical school yard bullying situation.
  • Cyberbullies? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Skyshadow (508) * on Monday March 29, 2010 @06:21PM (#31663200) Homepage

    Reading the article, you can't really pigeonhole this as a cyberbullying incident -- it seems way more accurate to call this an instance of *comprehensive* asshole behavior. I mean, when I was a kid the bullies knew how to operate the phone, but nobody called that telebullying.

    Don't get me wrong, this is distressing stuff, but reading between the lines it seems awfully simplistic to try and just pass this entire affair off as being a simple result of these kids using the internets in order to torment this girl into killing herself. Really, the most disturbing thing to me in the article is the lack of remorse these girls displayed after the fact. I understand that high school is messed up, but who the hell makes jerk comments on a memorial page? That seems pretty damn sociopathic even by the standards of high school.

    • Re:Cyberbullies? (Score:5, Informative)

      by sonnejw0 (1114901) on Monday March 29, 2010 @06:29PM (#31663282)
      This was not cyberbullying, although it may have involved it. These teenagers raped that girl, physically assaulted her in broad daylight with school teachers around and no one did anything.
      • Re:Cyberbullies? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 29, 2010 @06:34PM (#31663342)

        The two guys, 17 and 18, were charged with statutory rape.

        Not to split hairs, but that's a pretty significant difference -- you go to any high school in America and you'll find people having sex with folks two years older than they are. Assuming the sex was otherwise consensual, it sucks that these guys are getting charged with such a serious crime in what amounts to a prosecutorial attempt to close the barn door after the cows are out.

        • by russotto (537200)

          Assuming the sex was otherwise consensual, it sucks that these guys are getting charged with such a serious crime in what amounts to a prosecutorial attempt to close the barn door after the cows are out.

          Fortunately if they didn't brag about having sex with her, it's unlikely they'll be convicted; she can't testify against them and they can't be required to testify against themselves.

          Unfortunately, they're teenaged boys, so....

        • Rules change when you turn 18. The 17 year old though should be different. Unless the age of consent is 16 by law there, the 17 year old should walk away all charges dropped. If he did force her into it. Then he is a rapist and should be charged. The age of consent matters.

          The 18 year old might be screwed (pun intended). If they have the four years of age rule he might be OK, if not he is done.

        • Re:Cyberbullies? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by UnknowingFool (672806) on Monday March 29, 2010 @07:25PM (#31663916)

          It might be leverage. From what I read, there seems to be a major lack of remorse/guilt by the group of students who are alleged to be behind this incident. They apparently were still disparaging her after her death. If the rape charges are true, then it's not something that the males can easily avoid. The prosecutor has discretion to charge the males and she has.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's because it's easier to blame outside entities like technology, rather than take responsibility for your actions, or more importantly for your child's actions. If there's anyone that should be blamed (other than the kids who did the bullying), it's their parents for failing to instill any kind of morality or decency. The parents are, in internet terms, epic fail.

    • Re:Cyberbullies? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by fermion (181285) on Monday March 29, 2010 @06:52PM (#31663560) Homepage Journal
      Cyber bullying was part of it, as it is going to be in any contemporary case of chronic widespread personal assault by a group of organized criminals. One thing that is has not changed is that the authorities cannot do anything if the victim does not want to press charges, and the victim is not going to press charges if they feel like they themselves are going to be persecuted. This is especially the case in which an unpopular high school girl has had sex with popular boys. She will be told that she was delusional, no popular boy would have sex with her. Furthermore, since a underage rape victim is going to undergo the same humiliation common in the past with any single woman, few victims are going to come forward. The male teen age criminal is going to be considered a hero, while the girl is going to be considered a slut.

      The other unfortunate thing is that parent of so-called popular kids think that this kind of behavior is acceptable. Equally unfortunate is that unpopular kids do not feel empowered to do something to solve the mean-kid problem, up to talking to the ones parents. Tell them what is happening, and ask for help. Since their is a cyber element, that is documentation. Show it, report it. If administration want to protect the popular kids, escalate. For instance, I recall in elementary there were a couple kids who harassed everyone, the stupid 5th grade teacher could not believe that these christians could do this. By the end of the year it became obvious that these kids were playing her. This is almost a similar simplistic case in which adults clearly have documentation, but, clearly, the parents of the criminals refuse to do anything about it. Parent should have access to their kids communications, and failure to monitor and stop criminal activity makes them accomplices.

      Kids do need to figure out how to interact with peers. However, when we as adults are victims of a crime, we do not usually solve the problems ourselves. We call in help. We do need to teach our kids to the same, and when there is documentation like a twitter message, to show in, and force adults to act on it. This is not snitching, this is civilized behavior. We see this with the current crop of right wing wackos. A video on you tube threatening and elected official has landed someone in jail. Kids need to learn this lesson as well, before they actual take the it to the level of physical assault.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Locke2005 (849178)
      who the hell makes jerk comments on a memorial page?

      this guy [failblog.org], for one. Yeah, I shudder at just how big a dick somebody can be online too.
  • by Calibax (151875) * on Monday March 29, 2010 @06:23PM (#31663216)

    The daughter of a neighbor experienced a similar problem some time ago. Fortunately a vice-principal at the school did not ignore the reports from teachers and took disciplinary action against the people involved.

    The harassment was vicious, nasty and designed to humiliate and hurt. I understand that the bullies were unrepentant - they felt they had a "right" to hurt someone who didn't kowtow to them.

    I am thankful that these sorts of issues were pretty much unknown when I went to school. I think I'll home-school my kids....

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Meshach (578918)

      I am thankful that these sorts of issues were pretty much unknown when I went to school. I think I'll home-school my kids....

      It is all relative. More then anything it depends on the specific area that you live in and the actual teachers and administration (Principal, VP...) that are in that school. The real big change is that we all hear about the really bad cases whereas before we would not have heard if it was not in out local school.

      This is a terrible situation but sometimes it feels like observers are too sensationalistic [wikipedia.org].

  • Newsflash: (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    The world has some assholes in it. They are mean to people for no good reason.

    Altho for some reason we put up with them and work around them instead of throwing them down a deep dark hole and moving on.

    • by Onymous Coward (97719) on Monday March 29, 2010 @06:41PM (#31663412) Homepage

      People acting like assholes happens for actual reasons. Don't wave away the effort of figuring it out. That will just make you less able to cope.

      Want insight? Here's a great starter: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200910/big-bad-bully [psychologytoday.com]

      • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 29, 2010 @07:15PM (#31663800)

        Reads like some special kind of bullshit to me. 'we should put up with assholes because.....'

        Look. life is an unfair bitch. everyone has problems. MOST of us dont take it out on other people.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by snowgirl (978879)

        People acting like assholes happens for actual reasons. Don't wave away the effort of figuring it out. That will just make you less able to cope.

        I think one of the biggest things to realize about this situation is that there is a component of social mania/"hysteria" going on here. Everyone fed upon everyone else. "Oh, everyone is doing X, so, let's try doing X+1..." Or "I got away with doing X, so let's try X+1".

        It's relatively easy for a social group to exploit emotional influences to whip themselves up into a group performing evil actions. This is similar to the group think that led to the holocaust by the Nazis, just on a very much smaller sc

  • by gestalt_n_pepper (991155) on Monday March 29, 2010 @06:26PM (#31663256)

    This has been the teacher and administrator MO since I was in school in the 60s. Actually it's worse than that. The teacher/administrator just wants the problem to go away so they tend to persecute and isolate the *victim* rather than the perpetrator (Johny gets bullied by a group of 5 kids on the playground so we'll keep *Johny* inside while all the kids go out to play). This usually ostracizes the victim further by pointing him/her out as the weak odd kid.

    In my experience, the most culpable individuals are spineless teachers followed by spineless administrators. Children can't really be blamed. They know no better. Adults do, or should.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      I used to get jabbed and punched every day one year during middle school after lunch, when we all lined up to leave the cafeteria. Teachers knew it. Administrators knew it. And when I finally fought back, I got sent to the principal's office and got detention for fighting. As if I was picking fights with a group of 4 kids all of whom were twice the size of my short, skinny frame. Like you said, this is how it's always been.

    • by hrimhari (1241292) on Monday March 29, 2010 @06:44PM (#31663452) Journal

      You can look a little further and look for why you get spineless teachers and spineless administrators. Those with spine tend to get prosecuted when they attempt disciplinary actions by overzealous parents that most of the time won't do their part in their children's education, leaving all the burden to school.

      Interesting paradox, isn't it?

    • by TheDarkMaster (1292526) on Monday March 29, 2010 @07:02PM (#31663658)
      Some victims, seeing that nobody will bother to help them, take up weapons and go to school to kill as many as possible (the source of their suffering) until being killed by the police or committing suicide. It would be so easy to avoid this by exemplary punish the bullies, but I see that the culture of schools is to encourage the bullies ...

      How many victims will be necessary before a bullie be punished for harming someone?
    • by cptdondo (59460) on Monday March 29, 2010 @07:25PM (#31663910) Journal

      At least in our school district, the school adminstration has always met the problem head on. There was a Russian kid who got bullied, he filed a complaint. The administration took action, called the papers, set up school assemblies and had sessions for the kids. No news on kids who did it, but I guess that they got some serious counselling.

      Something similar happened to my daughter; she's a jock and walks like a lumberjack. This kid has bigger arms than most boys her age. So some girls started to make fun of her; she took it to the administration and the behavior stopped immediately.

      So not all districts are like that. Only the bad ones make the headlines.

    • Spineless teachers? (Score:5, Informative)

      by G00F (241765) on Monday March 29, 2010 @07:37PM (#31664030) Homepage

      More like spineless principal and above. Teachers can't even get a student kicked out of school let alone their classroom when the student HITS them. Parents are allowed to disrupt their classes and yell at the teachers. Teachers are not even allowed to fail students anymore, let alone kick them out.

      Blame the no child is left behind and the principals on up in the chain, not the teachers. They may act like they have no spine, because they can't do anything. Granted they should say something, but teachers learn just saying things is worse when they can never back it up, because their "power" is imaginary, and once that illusion is gone, teachers have nothing.

      You want teachers to have some responsibility? make it so they can kick kids out of their classroom and school.

  • Statutory rape? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wisnoskij (1206448) on Monday March 29, 2010 @06:27PM (#31663266) Homepage

    Since when has statutory rape been part of cyber bullying?

    It sounds like cyber bullying was the least of her problems.

    • by gedrin (1423917)
      It is likely the statutory rape charges are related to her dating a high school senior of age 17 or older. I do not have the details, but it appears the ages of the charged persons are 17 and 18. It may be outside the law for them to have sex with a freshman, but I seriously doubt it is far outside of normal behavior.
    • by GooberToo (74388)

      Look at "Statutory Rape". I don't think it means what you think it means.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by slimjim8094 (941042)

      Eh... this isn't real rape. If it was, they'd go for that.

      They're only using the 'statutory' version because the sex was so clearly consensual that it's the only thing that'll stick.

      Sickens the hell out of me, it does.

  • by Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) on Monday March 29, 2010 @06:32PM (#31663330) Homepage Journal

    The authorities have made it plain by their actions that there's no way to get justice and stay alive. This is just going to make suicide look like a more attractive option to targets of bullying.

    The problem also runs deeper than the conduct of the high school authorities. What are the odds that the conscienceless perpetrators didn't present any warning signs in grade school and middle school?

    • by TooMuchToDo (882796) on Monday March 29, 2010 @07:08PM (#31663720)

      The authorities have made it plain by their actions that there's no way to get justice and stay alive. This is just going to make suicide look like a more attractive option to targets of bullying.

      Suicide *or* Columbine-style retaliation.

  • Here is the standard post, thought I'd help get it out of the way:

    WHERE THE HELL WERE THE PARENTS!??!? *arrggghhh!*

    If you're going to allow your children to use the Internet, understand that its misuse has the potential to cause serious psychological trauma. If your child is pre-disposed to suicidal thoughts to begin with, allowing unsupervised access to the Internet is potentially dangerous. Kind of like leaving your loaded gun within reach. What were the guardian's of this girl doing after the repeated ha

  • I know most people, including even myself, have the reading style of letting our brains pick out the interesting bits and ignoring everything else, but it's important to point out that this isn't one of those cyberbullying vs free speech type of cases. Specifically:

    The sweeping charges ... include statutory rape, violation of civil rights with bodily injury...

    This isn't about the internet at all.

  • by papa_lizard (1690036) on Monday March 29, 2010 @06:46PM (#31663488)
    "For months, community anger simmered that no punishment had befallen Phoebe's bullies. Petitions were signed and town hall meetings held." Not only do these students need to be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, but so should the school administrators for gross negligence of their duties. How on earth can you let school bullying get to the point of requiring town hall meetings and still sit back and do nothing about it?
  • by Low Ranked Craig (1327799) on Monday March 29, 2010 @06:48PM (#31663512)

    But it won't be without a comprehensive solution. Simply kicking the bad kids out of school doesn't help, it requires the action of the parents as well, but frequently the parents have the "not my kid" or "it's not a big deal" attitude. And once you have to get the cops involved it's gone too far.

    A big part of the problem is that the rewards for being a bully are simply too great, vs. any punishment a school can hand out.

    On the other hand there is a fuzzy line between mostly harmless teasing (which learning to deal with builds character) and bullying, although in this case it was clearly so far over the line that there is no question.

    What we don't need is yet another zero tolerance policy. As I stated above, there needs to be a comprehensive solution where the bad kids are held accountable in a material way, and the parents of the bad kids are likewise held responsible. At the same time, the victims need to be to learn that the bullies just don't matter. Unfortunately, society rewards the "cool" kids and punishes the dorks.

    Probably the best current solution is teaching your kids how to beat the living shit out of a bully and to deal with the repercussions of that action.

    I didn't have to deal with this too much when I was in school, probably had something to do with being 6'2" / 160 in 8th grade. It seems to me that most bullies grow up to be extroverted assholes selling cars - just desserts.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 29, 2010 @06:56PM (#31663610)
    I went through this kind of shit when I was kid.

    A couple of kids on the school bus decided they had it in for me. It was pretty constant physical harassment, 45 minutes each way, 5 days a week.

    I was only 11 at the time and had no ability to deal with this on any level. I came home in tears every day. My mom called the school; my mom called the kids' parents; nothing changed.

    After a couple of months, I basically said I wasn't riding the bus any more. That made it my mother's problem. She went to my father and made it his problem. My father went to the principal and made it the principal's problem. I don't know what the principal did. My guess is he called in the two kids and told them to stop it. After that, they restricted themselves to verbal harassment, which I could more or less deal with.

    When one of my own kids was 10, he started reporting harassment at school. We had a few discussions with his teachers, but the harassment continued. So we pulled him from the town school and sent him to a nearby charter school for the duration of Junior High. He was not harassed at the charter school.

    In our state, the per-pupil funding for a student follows the student when they go to a charter school. So for the next 4 years, I got occasional letters from the town school extolling the quality of their faculty and curriculum, asking me to respond to surveys, and even inviting me to attend focus groups (I am not making this up) that they were conducting to try to figure out what they needed to do to hold onto students (and their per-pupil funding).

    I always responded to these, in writing, explaining exactly why we had pulled our son. I never received any response, let alone any indication that school might actually protect my children from harassment.

    Even when their own funding is on the line, town schools are unable(?) unwilling(?) (take your pick) to protect students from harassment.

  • by RexDevious (321791) on Monday March 29, 2010 @08:56PM (#31664952) Homepage Journal

    It seems to me that a lot of activities which are described as "bullying" when done to high school kids, would be legally defined as "assault" if it were done to an adult. I understand the idea of granting minors some leniency in punishment, but I don't understand the downgrading the action simply because of the age of the victim. If those kids threw a full soda can at some 93 year old women, or pushed her down, or knocked her purse out of her hands - wouldn't that be assault, complete with arrest and pressing charges and all that?

  • by AlgorithMan (937244) on Tuesday March 30, 2010 @04:28AM (#31667708) Homepage
    Shouldn't it be enough to tell a bully, that picking on someone can put you on top of his death list, should he ever snap?...

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