Hope Witsell took her own life, her mother says, after she was bullied because a topless photo sent to a boyfriend made its way to students at other schools. Her mother, Donna Faye Witsell, now shares her story in an effort to stop kids from cyberbullying.
St. Petersburg, Florida - School yard bullies are still around, but now more than ever, they're using different tools. They're texting and posting threats on social media to terrorize other students, but for a a Bay Area mother on a mission to stop the cycle, it's a matter of life or death.
Donna Faye Witsell is a mother on a heartbreaking mission. Tuesday afternoon she spoke with students at John Hopkins Middle School in St. Petersburg. She was one of several panelists there to educate them about the issue of cyberbullying.
"There's no facial expressions that go through the internet. It doesn't go through your phone and I just think that a threat is a threat," Witsell told the two dozen students.
It's not easy for Witsell. Her daughter Hope should be in her senior year of high school gearing up for homecoming, football games and the prom. Instead her mother is sharing the story of why Hope will never have the chance.
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Witsell said it all started due to something her daughter did, "Because of the act of sending a topless photo to a boyfriend."
Witsell says another student grabbed the boyfriend's phone and sent the image to students at more than a dozen different schools.
"She was ridiculed. She was called names. She was spit on. She was shoved into lockers," she explained.
Less than two weeks later, Hope took her own life.
Witsell wants students to know it doesn't have to happen to anyone else.
"They have that power. They have that control. They have it whether they hit delete. They have the power to stop hate," she said.
Students in the audience said they hear the message loud and clear.
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"That's not right to bully people - other kids- because some people kill themselves or cut themselves and I think that's not right," said Destiny Butler, a 7th grader who listened to Tuesday's panel of speakers.
"It's sad because a person is feeling hurt because they feel someone's messing with them," 6th grader Keondrick Davis added.
Still it's a tough subject to talk about. Several of the students at John Hopkins Middle School admitted they're hesitant to tell on bullies because they don't want to be bullied themselves.
Here are a few tips to prevent cyberbullying:
- Refuse to pass along cyberbullying messages
- Tell friends to stop cyberbullying
- Block communication with cyberbullies
- Report cyberbullying to a trusted adult
- Speak with other students, as well as teachers and school administrators, to develop rules against cyberbullying
- Raise awareness of the cyberbullying problem in your community by holding an assembly and creating fliers to give to younger kids or parents
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Tammie Fields, 10 News