After believing a Facebook prank that claimed his 13-year-old girlfriend had committed suicide, 11-year-old Tysen Benz hung himself in his Marquette, Michigan home this week.
His mother, Katrina Goss, says she found him hanging in his room. Just 40 minutes before she found him, she says he appeared “fine”.
Tysen had been using a cellphone that his mother didn’t know he had possession of. Thinking the fake posts on Facebook about his girlfriend’s suicide were true, Tysen posted his intentions to take his own life. Sadly, no one reading the posts informed any authorities or adults about the alarming threat.
A prosecutor is pursuing criminal charges against the juvenile accused of hatching the scheme. Authorities have given no details about the individual involved, but they are charging the juvenile with malicious use of telecommunication services and using a computer to commit a crime.
“I just want it be exposed and be addressed,” Goss said in reference to cyber-bullying. “I don’t want it be ignored.”
Michigan, along with many other states, has enacted legislation protecting children from bullying. Their anti-bullying act, known as “Matt’s Safe School Law,” which was named after Matt Epling, a 14-year-old who killed himself after a hazing incident, was signed by Gov. Rick Snyder in 2011. It was updated two years ago to include cyber-bullying. School districts are required to have anti-bullying policies in effect.
Marquette Area Public Schools Superintendent William Saunders released a statement on Thursday. He expressed concerns about social media and asked, “After the gut-wrenching loss of a student, we ask ourselves, ‘How can we do more?”
Katrina Goss thinks they should be doing more. “The principal, the assistant principal – that’s their job, especially for little kids,” she said. “Kids take things to heart.”
The kids involved in the prank and the girlfriend attended the same school as Tysen, Goss said.
Former Republican state Rep. Phil Potvin sponsored the original bill. He feels that schools should do more than write “anti cyber-bullying rules” in their policies. “They have to have a person – spelled out – to make sure that policy is followed,” he said. “Some schools have failed to do that. They may have put something in, but there is no follow-up. There is no checking up on these things.”
According to Tina Meier, who runs the Megan Meir Foundation, pranks are a relevant problem. Her foundation is a national bullying and cyber-bullying prevention foundation named for her daughter, a 13-year-old suicide victim. Megan was encouraged to commit suicide by a woman who had created a fake MySpace admirer named “Josh”. The woman befriended Megan on the social media platform and encouraged her to kill herself. “The problem is when they are pranking somebody … to them it’s just been a joke,” Meier said. “To the other person, it’s been real.”
Megan’s tormentor was convicted in a California federal court, but a judge overturned the three misdemeanor convictions.
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