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How it all went wrong – a cautionary tale of cyberbullying and death threats after an uneventful few internet years

My oldest has been on the internet for a long time. We’ve had some ground rules for this and they worked for a long time. Unfortunately one day everything just went absolutely crazy.

Sometime a few days before the main story starts my kid and a friend of hers played a stupid text message joke on the wrong person. It’s the sort of thing that maybe you get mad about and get over, but this kid didn’t get over it and it festered and she invented new wrongdoings that didn’t happen (as far as I can tell,) or didn’t matter. Kid drama at best and even for kid drama it should have been over.

The person who was at the start a victim of a stupid joke perpetrated by my kid (and other kid’s best friend,) started manufacturing tales of my child calling her at 2am (disprovable by call logs, that the phone locked at 9, etc) along with other stories I’m told. Whatever the case, this person had her phone number because my kid and person’s best friend used my kid’s phone to pull the stupid prank. And it should have been over at this point when apologies were initially given.

On a random Tuesday I got a call from my youngest crying her eyes out telling me someone threatened my oldest and included our address. I was getting another call from my eldest’s phone which had been taken away by a stage manager who was afraid she was going to delete the message and not tell me.

My kids were at a play rehearsal together and I went to get them. There were, I’m guessing over a hundred text messages since 3pm when school let out from a total of 11 numbers if I am remembering this right. There was also a threat to “end her,” with our address, from a throwaway Google Voice number. It stood out from most of the rest because it was not part of a group MMS.

I called the number that threatened her, it went straight to an Australian accent voicemail that had not been set up. The number was in Nashville’s newer exchange, and it turned out there were two separate texts from this person but I didn’t catch that until later because they used two throwaway numbers.

Looking at her phone which was exploding with texts my kid had several threads of random people calling her fat, ugly, and a shitty person. She had no idea who any of these people were and it had started at 3pm that day. They were schoolmates of the first kid, who decided in an MMS it would be a grand idea to start cyberbullying someone because their friend said so or had given them enough information to attack. Now, I’ve been told later that she never intended for it to go this far, but she gave my kid’s phone number to several people to copy, distribute, and attack her demanding apologies for things that either didn’t happen or weren’t their concern.

Or you know, maybe they did happen and somehow my kid beat the Google downtime and called using something that wasn’t carrier traceable. It’s possible but I doubt a 10 year old would know the steps required. Then again… I thought I knew what 10 year olds were capable of.

With a death threat with our address and 11 people I don’t know texting her nonstop, I called the police. I mean really – don’t make death threats against my kid, not cool. Even the claimed wrongs weren’t death threat worthy.

While waiting five and a half hours for the police I called some of these kids to see if any of them thought threatening her life was a fun prank. None of which knew her and all swore that they were just bullying her, not threatening her life. Threatening would be dishonorable. This is actually what was said to me. All these kids were cyberbullying my kid for several hours, and all of them are identifiable from their phone numbers and I know what school they go to and their names so yeah… I didn’t think anyone I’d talked to was doing the threatening. “Dishonorable” though… calling her a fat bitch was honorable?

Police showed at 10:30 or 11:30 that night after kiddo was in bed, I filled out a report and shared some screenshots of the death threat and the random gang of unknown kids bullying her. I was only police level concerned about the death threat with our address as not cool. As we knew the school all the stranger kids went to, I was told to contact my kid’s School Resource Officer and they would have a talk with the SRO of the school the other girl went to (the who gave her classmates my kid’s info and a story and set about harassing my kid.)

The next morning I took my kid to school, stopped in and had an hour+ meeting with the principal about stranger kids from another school cyberbullying my kid, the death threats and that the other school was going to need to have a talk with some of these upstanding kids who think calling someone they don’t know disgusting things is somehow solving anything.

As we’re having this lovely discussion they bring my kid back from class for a minute to discuss and she came back with the name of the person who did the death threats. It’s completely unrelated to the dogpile and from a kid who is in one of her classes that doesn’t even talk to her in the one class they share. She just got her address from a report card left on the desk supposedly, and my kid’s number from another student, and it’s instant in school suspension for the classmate. At this point there’s nothing I can do. Classmate confessed before the police actually issued a warrant to find out who was using that throwaway number. School handling it and according to the handbook it’s expulsion worthy, but she confessed so … whatever.

I’m pretty floored at this point… that kid was pulling some stupid multi-felony prank, didn’t have any reason to have my kid’s phone number or address, didn’t have any beef against her, not part of any friend groups that were involves, didn’t even talk to her. It had nothing to do with the other stuff that started at 3pm the day before… it just happened randomly at the same time. The only reason she confessed was because I told my kid exactly what was happening and she mentioned to her classmates a warrant to pull records of who used the voice/text service and it scared the crap out of the person who did it who just happened to be in earshot.

I had not slept that previous night. Something about someone threatening your kid and texting my address and being angry after talking to a few of these kids. I went home to take a nap and got woken by the father of the kid who started this all (or maybe my kid started it all, but you get it). He was angry that I called her, I told him I didn’t have his phone number or know who any of the people harassing my kid were and I was not threatening her with the police, the police were involved now because of the death threat and that’s what I had said when I left a voicemail. He had been shown a thread of the insults, but only the threads that she was in and he didn’t have access to the straight texted death threat, any of the individual texts, phone calls (I suspect one of the kids just accidentally dialed,) or the other phones that had been used one time to text insults (one said that her phone had been taken and used to text it, I don’t know.)

I told him the person who sent the threat was found. I’m not sure he believes me but whatever, got a police report and I don’t really care what people believe or don’t as I have never had any interaction with anyone involved in this except the best friend who helped start all of this by giving my kid the phone number and sitting with her as they texted some stupid “my best friend now!” idiocy.

My kid started this with a stupid joke that her and this kid’s best friend decided to play on her. The kids involved in the cyberbullying, and the kid who threatened her, absolutely nothing to do with my kid other than one is a classmate. Yes I know parsing this is hard but when you’ve got multiple kids (4 here) you’re not naming it’s freaking hard.) Strangers attacking.

You can totally be cyberbullied by a mob of strangers now as a not-celebrity. All of these people were strangers except for one who didn’t bully her but did keep pulling her into message threads because she had some reasons I’m sure. They formed up a mob and decided to harass someone because they felt justified in being terrible to someone they didn’t know.

Now, there was one kid involved that my kid did know at first. She was the best friend of the kid who started this. She’s the one that gave my kid the number and sat with her texting the initial joke. Near as I can tell from the text barrage she threw my kid under the bus when it came to who actually planned the joke (wonder how my kid got the phone number?). Oh well. My kid and her were mean to the wrong person and for that my kid is now off of any ability to communicate via a device.

That may seem harsh, but the initial prank was not funny, was mean (involved something like “so and so is *my* best friend now”) – stupid stupid prank worthy of some punishment as I don’t want a mean kid. Nut my kid also evidently also does not realize that there’s absolutely no tone or intonation via text so texting something like that is read however the sender feels it is and she felt it to the point it hurt. My kiddo also was not smart enough to simply not respond to some of these people thereby ensuring they knew they had the right number and to pile on. Too ashamed to tell me that strangers were attacking her (although it is entirely possible she didn’t know until 4:30ish due to practice) and gave at least one person she doesn’t know personally her phone number because my kid is the the one who texted the prank.

My kid wasn’t blameless. But damn…I’ve never seen a bunch of strangers dogpile someone they don’t know spending seven hours having fun making up vile stuff about a person they don’t know and don’t know what she looks like. That’s some scary shit and if my kid had handled things better we’d be talking restoration of digital communication options, but damn. Walk away.

I got a call from a detective the other day. It’s been a few weeks since this went down and they were getting around to getting warrant on the phone number that texted the death threat. The School Resource Officer from my kid’s school had done zero communication with MNPD and the detective knew nothing of what had happened. He asked if I was still planning on prosecuting or if I felt what the school was doing was punishment enough.

I told him I didn’t really know what prosecuting a 10 year old who confessed and was facing expulsion and parental punishment was going to accomplish, he agreed and was going to discuss the case with the school as he wants to know if the SRO from the other school was contacted and those kids talked to. Beats me at this point.

I really don’t know what’s going to happen with the kid who threatened my kid. Piecing things together and seeing that was completely unrelated to the dogpile makes it apparent it was yet another thing kids these days think is funny and acceptable. Hah hah here’s a threat of death and your address… hah hah I’m using multiple services to transmit a death threat because I don’t think I can be traced.

The phone was also removed for other reasons not listed above. I only got her an internet plan because of the school shooting (other school), the bomb threat (school next to her school,) and the idiot with a gun magazine at her school that locked her school down and it looked like a occupied police complex when the kids got out, and at least two times where her school put her on the wrong side of the school and I could not find her for 20+ minutes.

But I’m not going to let my kid be the mean kid, and that’s what started this.

Paul King

Paul King lives in Nashville Tennessee with his wife, two daughters and cats. He writes for Pocketables, theITBaby, and is an IT consultant along with doing tech support for a film production company.