Friend of Teen Who Killed Herself in Front of Family: 'She Looked Like She Was Going to Cry Through Her Smile'
18-year-old Brandy Vela fatally shot herself in the chest on Tuesday at home in front of her family
A good friend and colleague of 18-year-old Brandy Vela says the entire community is shaken up by her suicide.
“It’s overwhelming to even explain the amount of pain on this island,” Marnie Weinstein, referring to Galveston Island, Texas, tells PEOPLE. “It’s just such a tragedy.”
Vela fatally shot herself in the chest in front of her family on Tuesday in their Texas City home. Her family alleges her suicide was motivated by the cyberbullying she endured and police are now investigating whether cyberbullying played a role, PEOPLE confirms.
On Wednesday night, her father, Raul Vela, told the Galveston County Daily News that his daughter suffered from cyberbullying. The alleged abuse involved fake Facebook profiles and social media posts advertising illicit activities using Vela’s phone numbers.
The heartbroken father said that despite Vela’s changing her number multiple times and reporting the harassment to police multiple times, nothing changed because the people behind it were anonymous.
Vela’s sister, Jacqueline, 22, told Click 2 Houston that her family received an alarming text message from her that day that read, “I love you so much just remember that please and I’m so sorry for everything.”
Jacqueline added, “I heard someone crying so I ran upstairs and I looked in her room and she’s against the wall and she has a gun pointed at her chest and she’s just crying and crying and I’m like, ‘Brandy please don’t, Brandy no.’”
Moments later, “I was in my parents’ room and I just heard the shot and my dad just yelled, ‘Help me, help me, help me.’”
Weinstein wishes Vela had confided in her because she had experienced cyberbullying years ago.
“When I was 23, some girls took over my Myspace and it devastated me,” says Weinstein, now 33. “It ran me out of a small town of Longview, Texas. For her to be eighteen, so fragile-minded and not ready to handle it, I can’t imagine. I wish I could have told her it’d all be okay in the end.”
Weinstein added, “She can’t ever take this decision back.”
Weinstein and Vela worked together at Landry’s restaurant in Galveston, Texas.
“Her uncles are the managers here,” she says. “We were all one big tight-knit family.”
Vela started to work at the seafood restaurant around two years ago, Weinstein says, first as a host and then as a server.
“She was one of those people that you instantly felt comfortable around. She was amazing and gentle-natured,” she recalls. “Her smile was contagious. I know that’s cliché but it really was. She didn’t have a mean bone in her body.”
The pair was very close despite the significant age difference between them.
“She could get along with anyone. She was a magical person like that,” Weinstein says. “I felt like she was my sister.”
The Texas City Independent School District wrote in a statement obtained by PEOPLE that Vela “had a lot of friends and was thought of warmly by her peers and teachers.”
According to the statement, Vela brought to the school’s attention before Thanksgiving break that she was getting harassing messages on her cell phone outside of school. School investigators found that the app being used to send the messages was untraceable. The school encouraged her to change her phone number, but they’re not sure if she did so, the statement says.
A prayer vigil will be held in the parking lot of Texas City High School on Friday at 6:30 p.m.
Weinstein, who was with Vela two days before the incident on Sunday at a co-worker’s birthday party, says she seemed “distant and strange.”
“She was smiling but she looked like she was going to cry through her smile,” Weinstein says. “But she kept a smile on her face and didn’t say very much that night.”
She recalls that something was amiss that night. But, she says, “No one could foresee anything like this happening.”