"We don't want this to happen to anybody else," her sister says
After months of online torment, a Texas teen fatally shot herself in front of her horrified family. Could she have been saved? Subscribe now to PEOPLE, or pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday, for more on this story.
“We lost Brandy,” her sister Jackie tells PEOPLE. “But now we can try and save someone else.”
Jackie and her family say that Brandy took her life after after months of being cyberbullied. Police have since opened a criminal investigation.
On social media, others allegedly made up fake Facebook accounts and posted about Brandy’s weight and looks, her family tells PEOPLE. Even when the Facebook pages were deleted after the family reported them, new ones were created in a matter of days.
The profiles had Brandy’s name and photos and said she would “offer sex for free,” Jackie says.
“It didn’t stop,” she says. “What they did wasn’t just bullying — it was stalking.”
Despite her family’s pleas for her to put the gun down, Brandy shot herself in her bedroom and was pronounced dead upon arrival at a nearby hospital.
The Velas are now motivated to help others who are harassed online and bring those responsible to justice.
“I want justice, and I will for years,” Raul Vela told KHOU. “We’ll never, we’ll never stop.”
“We don’t want this to happen to anybody else,” adds Jackie. “We’re really trying to bring awareness. People think that words aren’t strong but every person is different. Not everyone takes things lightly.”
The Velas are now joining efforts to pass Texas legislation that gives police and schools new tools to combat cyberbullying. The bill, called “David’s Law,” is named in honor of 16-year-old David Molak, who killed himself in January after aggressive online threats and bullying.
“Right now it’s a bill that would give schools and law enforcement more tools to hold people accountable,” says Jackie. “We want to passed so hopefully it saves another life.”
Since Brandy’s death, her community has come together to show support.
Her bedroom walls are covered in Post-it notes from friends and loved ones, with messages like “You will never be forgotten,” and “You will always own a piece of my heart.” Students at her school have taped blue hearts down the hallways.
Despite the love and support of many, there has been ugly behavior, as Brandy’s family has been harassed, they told media outlets.
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“I thought all this was behind us,” her father, Raul Vela, told KHOU 11 on Tuesday, “but it’s not over.”
He told the TV station that one Facebook page has been created that shows a picture of a pig with Brandy’s face on it. Another page shows guns, he said.
“I know what she was going through now,” he said. “It’s not that easy just to shut it off and let it go.”
Jackie wants the people behind the harassment to know they are risking serious trouble.
“This isn’t just a slap on the hand,” she says. “We hope that we can get the highest charge possible.”