Girl's suicide after alleged attack troubles town

Published on NewsOK Modified: May 25, 2013 at 3:32 pm •  Published: May 25, 2013
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In Audrie's case, like the incidents in Ohio and Canada, a sexual assault is also alleged, however — something experts said mothers and fathers must talk to their children about, just as they might discuss drug and alcohol use.

"Parents, when they sit down and talk to their kids, it's about drinking, not sexual assault," said Rosalind Wiseman, an author of books focusing on the lives of teenagers and an expert in bullying. Wiseman suggested that parents reinforce the idea that it's OK for children to go to them when they think something inappropriate has occurred.

"I would like for parents to include when they talk to their kids, 'If something bad happens to you or one of your friends, please know that is more important to me than if you got drunk or did something else you shouldn't have,'" she said.

Cyberbullying expert Nancy Willard said adults need to focus on positive norms, "recognizing that the vast majority of teens ... have an extremely low regard for anyone who distributes a nude image of a peer," she said.

Teens also need to know that if they are involved in a bullying situation — or something worse — it's safe to tell an adult, Willard said.

"Even if an image has been distributed, this is something that they can recover from," she said. "So let an adult they trust know what is happening. If a friend is being exploited in this way, they should reach out to let their friend know they are there for support and advise their friend to tell a trusted adult."

Audrie, it seems, confided in few. In the week following the alleged assault, she instead did what so many young people do: She shut down and suffered in silence — reaching out to only a few friends with increasing desperation.

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Before that Labor Day weekend, Audrie was a bright girl dealing with normal teen challenges. She spent summers at horse camp, played viola and piano. On winter slopes, her parents recalled, she sang as she skied. On hikes in the local hills, she marched her friends until they had blisters. At 11, Audrie beamed as she strode, without gloves or jacket, on a frigid day with her middle school color guard in President Barack Obama's first inaugural parade.

When Audrie started Saratoga High as a freshman, the school paper interviewed her. She was excited about playing soccer, eager to go to a dance, concerned about homework. Her optimism was palpable.

Question: "Would you rather fly or be invisible?"

Audrie: "Fly any day."

But as freshman year got underway, Audrie was picked on by some classmates, her parents said, prompting them to ask for a meeting with school officials. Her parents said they raised concerns about Audrie being bullied. School officials have countered that "the issue of bullying was not the subject covered in those conversations."

"She was picked on because she was pretty, because she was popular, because she was nice," her father, Larry Pott, told the San Jose Mercury News. "It was: You're not as good as you appear to be. We're going to drag you down a bit."

Her stepmother, Lisa Pott, said in the same interview that Audrie was neither depressed nor on medication.

"She had no more teen drama than I did," Lisa Pott said.

One week after the Labor Day party, Audrie called her mother from school and asked to be picked up. "She said, I can't deal with it, please take me home," recalled Sheila Pott, who brought her daughter to their Los Altos home and begged her to share what was going on. But Audrie couldn't put words to her pain. That same day, she hanged herself.

As they buried Audrie, her parents had no idea about an alleged assault, let alone that school officials, alerted by students about the party and the picture, had already gone to the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office, which launched an investigation.

Then the Pott family began getting phone calls. "There was information some of the children had that they felt would be vital for us to find out," Larry Pott said.

The three boys accused in the case were charged in the fall but remained in school (one transferring elsewhere) until April 11, when sheriff's deputies arrested them on charges of sexual battery and distribution of child pornography. Attorneys representing the teens, whose names have not been released because of their ages, urged the public to withhold judgment.

"Much of what has been reported ... is inaccurate. Most disturbing is the attempt to link (Audrie's) suicide to the specific actions of these three boys," said a statement from attorneys Eric Geffon, Alan Lagod and Benjamin Williams. "We are hopeful that everyone understands that these boys, none of whom have ever been in trouble with the law, are to be regarded as innocent."

The Pott family has sued the boys and their families, and filed an administrative claim against the Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District, alleging that administrators were slack in responding to bullying against Audrie. "With no assault, with no cyberbullying, Audrie is in art class right now," Larry Pott said at a news conference last month, his voice breaking.

The Potts also have launched the Audrie Pott Foundation to support local music and art scholarships in Audrie's memory, as well as youth counseling. And they are pressing for a change in state laws to stiffen penalties for cyberbullying and assault.

At Saratoga High, meantime, students went through an all-too-common cycle of grieving: A candlelight vigil and counseling sessions were held. Flowers piled up outside the library. Students wore clothing in Audrie's favorite color.

Now, months later, questions remain, but their young lives go on. Springtime at the high school means prom, college acceptances, final exams. There are track meets and pancake breakfasts.

This week the students have Memorial Day off, a rare three-day weekend before the rush of finals. If Audrie were alive she probably would have celebrated on that school-free Monday. It would have been her 16th birthday.

___

Associated Press writer Lisa Leff in San Francisco contributed to this report. Follow Martha Mendoza at https://twitter.com/mendozamartha


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