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9 charged in bullying case after Mass. teen's suicide

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. - Insults and threats followed 15-year-old Phoebe Prince almost from her first day at South Hadley High School, targeting the Irish immigrant in the halls and library and in vicious cell phone text messages.

Phoebe, ostracized for having a brief relationship with a popular boy, reached her breaking point and hanged herself after one particularly hellish day in January - a day that, according to officials, included being hounded with slurs and pelted with a beverage container as she walked home from school.

Now, nine teenagers face charges in what a prosecutor called "unrelenting" bullying, including two teen boys charged with statutory rape and a clique of girls charged with stalking, criminal harassment and violating Phoebe's civil rights.

School officials won't be charged, even though authorities say they knew about the bullying and that Phoebe's mother brought her concerns to at least two of them.

Northwestern District Attorney Elizabeth Scheibel, who announced the charges yesterday, said the events before Phoebe's death on Jan. 14 were "the culmination of a nearly three-month campaign of verbally assaultive behavior and threats of physical harm" widely known among the student body.

"The investigation revealed relentless activity directed toward Phoebe, designed to humiliate her and to make it impossible for her to remain at school," Scheibel said. "The bullying, for her, became intolerable."

The district attorney said one other person could be charged.

Scheibel said the harassment began in September, primarily in school and in person, although some of it surfaced on Facebook and in other electronic forms. At least four students and two faculty members intervened to try to stop it or report it to administrators, she said. She refused to discuss the circumstances of the rape charges.

No school officials are being charged because they had "a lack of understanding of harassment associated with teen dating relationships," Scheibel said. "Nevertheless, the actions, or inactions, of some adults at the school are troublesome," she said.

Phoebe was born in Bedford, England, and moved to County Clare, Ireland, when she was 2. She moved last summer to South Hadley, home to Mount Holyoke College, because the family had relatives there.

"The Prince family has asked that the public refrain from vigilantism in favor of allowing the judicial system an opportunity to provide a measure of justice for Phoebe," Scheibel said.

The Massachusetts Legislature cited Prince's death and the 2009 apparent suicide of 11-year-old Carl Walker-Hoover of Springfield when members passed anti-bullying legislation earlier this month.

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