Carla Carey saw the same signs of bullying – and intervened before it was too late

By Judy Rakowsky
April 21, 2010 07:40 AM
Credit: The Republican/Landov

The words were hauntingly similar to what Phoebe Prince was reported to have said before the 15-year-old committed suicide.

“My daughter said things like, ‘I can’t go on,’ and ‘Nobody will help me and nobody can help me,’ ” recalled Carla Carey of Foxboro, Mass.

For months, Carey’s daughter had reported harassment by a classmate to school officials, who said they looked into her complaints but could not corroborate the incidents. Then a recent spate of calls, which Carey overheard, left her daughter in tears – and sounding like Prince.

Carey called the police and got her daughter into a hospital, where the youngster spent six days being treated for “emotional distress.” Her daughter remains “very fragile” while recovering at home, but the Careys are taking comfort at being able to intervene before it was too late.

“I learned the warning signs,” says Carey. “Phoebe Prince’s suicide saved my daughter’s life.”

The Phoebe Prince Impact

The Prince case has changed the way many are viewing complaints about adolescent bullying. After allegedly being tormented at school, the Irish immigrant hanged herself.

Six teens – many of them her classmates – have been indicted. Attorneys for all the teens say they’re not guilty. School officials across the country are reexamining their policies on bullying, the Massachusetts legislators are finalizing anti-bullying legislation, and parents are paying more attention to what their children say about troubles with classmates.

“We live in a world where bullying is common,” psychiatrist Bennett Leventhal tells PEOPLE. “Let’s not just blame everybody. Let’s stop the process.”

While research shows no spike in teen suicides, experts say there is plenty of suffering among adolescents who are humiliated online or who fear harassment if they attend social activities. They may want to stay home from school, football games or dances, or be apprehensive about where to sit at lunch.

“The pain in their lives is horrible,” says psychiatrist Henry J. Gault. “It has to be actively addressed right away that this will not be tolerated.”

School Finds No Evidence

In the case of Carey’s daughter, whose first name is being withheld at the family’s request, the girl first complained to officials at the 900-student Ahern Middle School months ago. In February, Carey and her husband pressed school officials to assure their daughter’s safety at school. But teachers told school officials the bullying must have happened behind their backs and fellow students did not come forward.

“We weren’t seeing any evidence,” Foxboro district Superintendent Christopher Martes tells PEOPLE. “That doesn’t mean it wasn’t there.” Martes says the school is committed to making school safe for the Careys’ daughter and encouraging students to report bullying.

After her parents went to authorities, police launched a criminal harassment probe, subpoenaing cell-phone records to see who made the phone calls to the eighth grader during her April 9 birthday party.

The ordeal has been trying on the entire Carey family. Carla Carey and her husband missed a lot of work dealing with the crisis. Their daughter still has not returned to school at the recommendation of doctors, who say she should stay home until the school can assure the family a “safety plan” is in place.

“If we lose the house, we lose the house, but we won’t lose a daughter,” says Carey.