Rebecca Sedwick, 12, jumped to her death from an abandoned cement factory after months of bullying. Two girls were arrested Oct. 15, 2013, and charged with aggravated felony stalking.
(Photo: Family photo via WTSP.com)
Florida authorities have arrested two girls -- 12 and 14 -- on felony charges for allegedly taunting and bullying a 12-year-old girl who jumped to her death last month from an abandoned cement factory tower.
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told reporters Tuesday that one of the suspects had posted a message on the Internet saying that the victim should "drink bleach and die."
Rebecca Sedwick, of Lakeland, Fla., who died Sept. 9, was "terrorized" by as many as 15 girls who picked on her for months through online message boards and texts, according to authorities. Some of the girls' computers and cellphones were seized in the investigation.
The suspects were arrested Monday night and charged as juveniles with third degree felony aggravated stalking, according to the Polk County Sheriff's office.
If convicted, it's not clear how much time, if any at all, the girls would spend in juvenile detention because they did not have any previous criminal history, the sheriff said.
"Time may not be the best trainer here. We've got the change this behavior of these children," Judd said.
The girls, who Judd said had previous problems at school, were released into their parents' custody and remain on home detention.
Judd said that a feud had erupted after the 14-year-old suspect began dating a boy that Rebecca had been seeing. She "didn't like that and began to harass and ultimately torment Rebecca," Judd said.
The sheriff said the 14-year-old was "very cold, had no emotion at all upon her arrest." The second suspect was once the victim's best friend.
Judd said the pair were allegedly the main culprits, but that the investigation continues into the possible involvement by other young girls.
The sheriff said the tipping point leading to the arrests came when one of the suspects purportedly showed a lack of remorse for Rebecca's death by allegedly posting on Facebook on Saturday: "Yes ik [I know] I bullied REBECCA nd she killed her self but IDGAF [I don't give a f***]"
The suspect told deputies that her Facebook account was hacked and that she did not write that post, WTSP-TV reports.
The sheriff's office says that in interviews recently with detectives, the 12-year-old suspect "admitted that she 'bullied' Rebecca, and that she was sorry for doing it.
Judd said that police decided to make the arrests out of concern that the girls would pick a new victim.
"We decided, look, we can't leave her out there," Judd said. "Who else is she going to torment? Who else is she going to harass? Who is the next person she verbally and mentally abuses and attacks?"
He said that their parents did not cooperate with police, would not bring them in to the police, nor stop their daughters' use of social media.
Judd also took the unusual step of releasing the photographs of the two suspects, although they are juveniles.
A man who answered the phone at the 14-year-old suspect's Lakeland home told the Associated Press that he was her father and said that "none of it's true."
"My daughter's a good girl and I'm 100 percent sure that whatever they're saying about my daughter is not true," he said.
A message left at the 12-year-old girl's home was not immediately returned, the AP said.
Rebecca's mother, Tricia Norman, told WTSP last month that the constant bullying drove her daughter to kill herself, and that the school district did not do enough to protect her.
"They would tell her she's ugly, stupid, nobody liked her, go kill herself," said Norman, who launched an anti-bullying campaign in her daughter's name on Facebook,Rebecca Sedwick -- Against Bullying.
Rebecca ran away in November and was hospitalized the following month for three days after cutting herself. At one point, the school stepped in to separate the girls' schedules because of fights. Rebecca later even changed schools, but the bullying continued online, on sites such as Ask.fm, Kik, Instagram and Voxer, authorities said.
Judd said on the morning of Sept. 9, Rebecca texted a boy she had met online in North Carolina from the cement tower, saying she was jumping and she couldn't take it anymore.
Judd said the "red flags" for possible suicide were there. On her computer, police found search queries for topics including "what is overweight for a 13-year-old girl," ''how to get blades out of razors" and "how many over-the-counter drugs do you take to die." One of her screensavers also showed Rebecca with her head resting on a railroad track.
Florida has a bullying law named after Jeffrey Johnson, a teenage "techno geek" who was bullied for two years before hanging himself in his closet at age15. Amended July 1 to cover cyberbullying, the law leaves punishment to schools, though law enforcement also can seek more traditional charges.
Contributing: Associated Press