The Lakeland girl who was bullied online by her former classmates jumped to her death, Sheriff Grady Judd said.
Rebecca Sedwick's body was found Tuesday outside a former cement factory off of Eastside Drive in Lakeland. Sedwick's mother, Tricia Norman said her daughter killed herself.
Norman believed cyber-bullying caused her daughter to kill herself. Since Sedwick's death, there has been overwhelming support from family and the community.
On Thursday, Judd held a press conference in which he discussed the latest developments of their investigation into her death.
Bullying began over 'boyfriend issue'
Judd said the bullying apparently began some time ago last year at Crystal Lake Elementary over a "boyfriend issue" with a group of girls who used to be her friends, then continued at Crystal Lake Middle School.
Investigators spoke to several of the minors who were in Rebecca's social media circle, and Judd said that some of the girls told them that Rebecca was "absolutely terrorized" on social media by some of the girls.
The situation apparently came to a head in December, when Judd said Norman had noticed cuts on Rebecca's wrist, which her daughter said was because she was being bullied.
A call was made to a crisis phone line, and Rebecca was taken to a hospital, where she was Baker Acted for three days, Judd said.
Rebecca then returned to school, where the bullying continued, Judd said.
In January, an incident report was filed after someone bumped Rebecca in the school hallway. Judd said a girl had said she wanted to fight Rebecca, and so school administrators called the girls in to the office to resolve the problem. The girls were counseled and changes were made to their schedules so they wouldn't be in class together.
At this point, Norman decided to homeschool Rebecca for the rest of the year. She was moved to Lawton Chiles Middle Academy, where both Judd and Norman said Rebecca appeared to be happy.
However, the bullying continued on social media platforms like Kick, Ask.FM and Instagram. Judd said Rebecca received messages like "You should die" and "Why don't you go kill yourself?"
The sheriff is looking into possible charges against the students who sent those messages.
“We have an investigation underway and certainly if we can determine credible evidence against any child that may have been involved in this we plan to hold them liable,” said Judd.
The bullies could be charged under the state’s new cyber bullying law.
So far the sheriff says they’ve already confiscated computers and cell phones from teens, to see who is responsible.
While the hunt is on for at least a dozen students who the Sheriff said may have played a role in the bullying, those aren’t the only people deputies are talking to.
Classmate says she would have helped
The grandparents of one of Sedwick’s classmates are being pro-active and called detectives to their home.
Bruce Carey’s granddaughter is not one of the 15 students being investigated, but Carey says she was interviewed by homicide detectives who claim she made some derogatory Facebook posts about Rebecca Sedwick.
The granddaughter told Bay News 9 off-camera that she never bullied Rebecca though she once heard kids call her ugly.
She also said that if she had known Rebecca was being bullied so badly, that she would have stuck up for her and done something about it.
"I don't believe my granddaughter would bully anybody," said Carey.
And they’re cooperating with the investigation.
Carey says the detectives who visited them never asked for anything, but he gave them his granddaughter’s laptop and cellphone anyway.
For now, he hopes the bullying stops to prevent another tragedy.
"There's a lot of 12-year-olds that's in the position of that little girl and if there's any way that I could help the Polk County Sheriff, whether it affects my granddaughter or any other child here in Polk County, I am going to assist them in any way," said Carey.
Ever since Sedwick’s death, Carey says his granddaughter has been receiving threats and as a result, he’s not sending her back to school, at least not right now.
Girl reported missing Monday night
On Sunday night, Norman went to bed, which was the last time she saw her daughter. At the time, Rebecca was texting on her cell phone, Judd said.
When Norman woke up the following morning, Rebecca had already left for school. However, later that day, when Rebecca didn't come home, Rebecca's older sister called Norman, who then came home and called the school.
School officials told Norman that Rebecca did not show up for school that day, and that the automatic system that notifies parents when their children are not in school was not working, Judd said.
Norman then called authorities to report her daughter missing.
Deputies and detectives began searching for her, calling her friends and seeing if she was with them. At about 2 a.m., Judd said investigators went to the abandoned cement plant, where they learned she liked to hang out, which is where they found her body.
Judd said the building has a tower with three levels: 19 feet, 24 feet and 60 feet. Judd said Rebecca could have jumped from any of those levels.
"At some point in time, we believe early in the day on Sept. 1, she climbed the cement tower and jumped off, fatally injuring herself," he said.
Judd said the autopsy found that Rebecca died from multiple blunt force trauma, the result of her apparent jump from the tower.
Judd: She appeared to be 'beat down'
Rebecca had reached out to a 12-year-old friend in North Carolina the previous night, Judd said. He said she posted on Kick that she was dead, that she's jumping and that she can't take it anymore. Her friend did not tell an adult about her messages.
Judd said the investigators had also looked through her search engine results, and they found the following searches: "What is overweight for a 13 year old girl?” “How to get blades out of razors?” “How many Advil do you need to take to die?” “How many over the counter drugs do you take to die?”
Rebecca also had a screen saver that showed her lying on railroad tracks with her head on a rail. Judd said Norman was not aware of this.
"Rebecca wasn't attacking back," Judd said. "She appeared to be beat down. She appeared to have a defeatist attitude, and quite frankly, the entire investigation is disturbing for the entire investigative team."
Judd said they are continuing to investigate her death, and that the parents of the children involved have all been cooperative.
Judd to parents: Check your child's phone
Judd suggests parents monitor their children’s activities not just on computers but also on smartphones, iPads, and other communication devices.
“If you’re not searching your children’s devices, if you’re not taking them from your 12,13,14,15, and 16-year-olds and demanding to look to see what’s happening- you’re not being a responsible parent," he said. "Take the device away from the child if you need to do that.”
Candlelight vigil held for Sedwick
About 200 people turned out for a candlelight vigil for Sedwick, where friends and family members called for an end to bullying.
At the old, abandoned cement plant in Lakeland people of all ages gathered outside the fence. Many faces in the crowd were children. Some knew Sedwick, some didn't.
"Well I heard she's a great kid," said one person who attended the vigil. "She was a Christian. I wish this bullying stuff would just stop."
A 14-year-old who knew of Sedwick through mutual friends said she wrote her a poem to say goodbye.
Tears flowed as people leaned on each other for support. Sedwick’s family members were overcome with grief but thanked everyone for coming out.
Family members say the biggest thing people can do to honor Sedwick is to be kind to each other.
The family has also set up a memorial fund for those who want to help with Sedwick's funeral expenses. The account has been set up "In Memory of Rebecca Sedwick" at Community Southern Bank in Lakeland.