Anguished mother rips daughter’s tormenter

Pair admit they harassed Phoebe Prince, get probation

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By Peter Schworm
Globe Staff / May 5, 2011

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The mother of Phoebe Prince, the 15-year-old Irish immigrant who killed herself after being bullied by other students at her high school, condemned one of her daughter’s admitted tormenters in a searing courtroom scene yesterday, saying his relationship with the young girl was “predatory’’ and that his betrayal broke her spirit.

In a tearful statement that ended her long silence on the circumstances around her daughter’s death, Anne O’Brien said that her daughter trusted Sean Mulveyhill, a football player she had a brief relationship with, but that he took pains to humiliate her.

“I can only imagine the pain she felt at his unrelenting desire to harass and humiliate her,’’ she said through tears in a hushed Northampton courtroom, where Mulveyhill, 18, pleaded guilty to harassing Prince.

O’Brien’s statement laid bare the raw emotions at the heart of the high-profile case, which has thrust the emotional debate over school bullying onto the national stage. Over the course of the hearing, O’Brien read two text messages Prince sent in the final days of her life that showed her growing desperation over the cruelty she suffered at school. One of the accused teenagers tearfully apologized to Prince’s family and to Prince, saying she was deeply ashamed of her role in the tragedy.

Prince hanged herself in January 2010 at her family’s South Hadley home after being subjected to what prosecutors called a “three-month campaign of verbally assaultive behavior and threats of physical harm.’’

Students began hounding Prince, prosecutors said, after she briefly dated two older boys at South Hadley High School, Mulveyhill and Austin Renaud. Prosecutors pressed criminal charges against them and four other teenagers in connection with Prince’s death and recently entered into plea agreements to resolve all but one of the cases.

In addition to Mulveyhill, Kayla Narey, 18, admitted yesterday to sufficient facts to criminal harassment. She and Mulveyhill were both sentenced to one year of probation and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service.

Today, three other defendants in the case are expected to plead guilty to misdemeanors. In exchange for their admissions of wrongdoing, prosecutors agreed to drop more serious criminal charges against them. Renaud faces statutory rape charges and is due back in court in July.

Today’s agreements were reached in consultation with Prince’s family, prosecutors said.

Prince’s mother, who spoke in a wavering voice that at times cracked with emotion, made clear she held the teenagers, Mulveyhill in particular, responsible for her daughter’s death.

“Phoebe ended her pain brought about by harassment, harassment that could easily have been stopped if any of those involved had ever reached inside themselves to find their own compassion,’’ she said.

O’Brien said Prince’s final text messages were about “Sean and the girls that tormented her’’ and said they foreshadowed her decision to take her own life. Holding back tears, O’Brien read two to the courtroom.

“I think Sean condoning this is one of the final nails in my coffin,’’ Prince wrote. “I can’t take much more.’’

Pausing to regain her composure, O’Brien read the second message.

“It would be easier,’’ Prince wrote, “if he or any one of them handed me a noose.’’

Prosecutors said Mulveyhill encouraged several of his friends to taunt Prince. A friend had once asked him how he could be so mean to someone he had once cared about, they added, and Mulveyhill replied that she was no longer “his problem.’’

In pleading guilty, Mulveyhill admitted to the judge that what prosecutors said was true. Throughout the hearing, he showed little emotion.

After Narey admitted to harassing Prince, she asked to address the court and offered an emotional apology.

“My behavior in the days leading up to Phoebe’s death was unacceptable,’’ she said, dabbing at her eyes.

“I was the weak one, and that failure will always be with me,’’ she said. “I am sorry, Phoebe. I am sorry for the unkind things I said to others about you. I am sorry about the unkind posting on my Facebook page. But mostly I am sorry for Jan. 14 of 2010 in the library and in the hallway when I laughed when someone else was shouting humiliating things at you.’’

“I am immensely ashamed of myself,’’ she added, “that I allowed my emotions to spiral into acts of unkindness.’’

By admitting that they engaged in criminal harassment toward Phoebe Prince, First Assistant District Attorney Steven E. Gagne said in a statement, “these two defendants have publicly accepted responsibility for their actions and have been held accountable. Today’s proceedings signify that bullying and harassment will not be tolerated in our schools; and when it rises to the level of criminal conduct, as it did in these two cases, those responsible will be prosecuted.’’

Prosecutors also praised the Prince family for “exceptional strength, patience, and capacity for compassion.’’

But as the cases wind to a close, O’Brien, who lives in Ireland, described a boundless grief she said will never subside.

“There is a dead weight that now sits permanently in my chest,’’ she said through tears. “It is an unbearable pain, and it will stay with me until my own death. I would not wish this kind of pain on any parent. It is torture.’’

She remembered her daughter as kind and compassionate and recalled lifting her body to say a final farewell.

“My little girl, once so full of life, was now so cold,’’ she said. “I wept and asked her, ‘What am I going to do?’ ’’

Globe correspondent Jenna Duncan contributed to this report. Peter Schworm can be reached at