By Bob Meadows Diane Herbst
April 12, 2010 12:00 PM

It had been nearly three months since the raven-haired 15-year-old Phoebe Prince hung herself, and South Hadley, Mass., residents-and outraged parents nationwide-wondered whether her death would be just another forgotten story about teenage bullies gone too far. On March 29 they got their answer. In a seemingly unprecedented show of prosecutorial force, nine teens (most of them Phoebe’s schoolmates at South Hadley High) were indicted: Sean Mulveyhill and Kayla Narey, both 17; Austin Renaud, 18; and Ashley Longe, Sharon Chanon Velazquez and Flannery Mullins, all 16; and three minors. The boys are charged with statutory rape, and the girls face accusations ranging from stalking to criminal harassment, a clear message that bullying can’t be tolerated. “I can’t think of a time when they have come down so hard on kids,” says Littleton, Colo., bullying expert Barbara Coloroso. “You don’t have to like every kid in school, but you have to honor their humanity.”

Along with the charges was a disturbing revelation: South Hadley School Superintendent Gus Sayer had claimed Phoebe didn’t report the bullying, but Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel’s investigation revealed faculty members and administrators were well aware of it. While the school district said these facts “did not come to light” during its investigation, parents are irate. “They could have done something about it,” says Darby O’Brien, who has a child at the school.

Friends say Phoebe, a recent Irish immigrant, drew the ire of a cadre of girls by briefly dating Mulveyhill, a senior football player who also went out with Narey. On Jan. 14 Phoebe’s mood deteriorated when students repeatedly called her an “Irish whore” and threw a can of soda at her. Despondent, Phoebe went home and took her life. Now, the community hopes the arrests will prevent another tragedy. “My heart aches, but this sends a message,” says Luke Gelinas, whose son was friends with Phoebe. “If mean-spirited behavior does harm, you will be held accountable.”