She had her whole life in front of her, and even with family members pleading with her to stop, 18-year-old Brandy Vela shot herself in the chest.
The Texas teen was relentlessly bullied online because of her weight and when she could not deal with it any longer, she decided to take the extreme step. Her sister Jacqueline, who received a text message from Brandy early on Tuesday, knew something was not right.
“I love you so much, please remember that, and I’m sorry for everything,” read the message.
Worried, Jacqueline called her parents and grandparents, who then rushed to the family’s Texas home. On arriving there, they found Brandy with a gun in her hand, visibly distraught and on the verge of shooting herself.
Despite their pleas to stop and throw the gun away, Brandy shot herself in front of horrified family members.
Jacqueline Vela told Click 2 Houston that her sister was repeatedly harassed by online bullies who taunted her about her weight in untraceable messages. The bullies also made Brandy’s fake profiles on dating sites, and even on Facebook, where they left her phone number with the message that she would “give herself for sex for free.”
“People would make up fake Facebook accounts and they would message her and she wouldn’t respond and they would still come at her,” Brandy Vela’s sister said.
“They would say really, really mean things like, ‘Why are you still here?’ They would call her fat and ugly. She was beautiful, absolutely beautiful; the only thing people could find to pick on her was her weight.”
Tired of all the bullying, Brandy changed her phone number and even contacted the police, who, Jacqueline said, could not help her sister because the online bullies used to send messages through an encrypted app.
“They couldn’t do anything because [the suspects] used an app and it wasn’t traceable and they couldn’t do something until something happened, like they fight,” she said.
Brandy Vela’s case stands out particularly because by all accounts, she did not face direct bullying at school. The hallway of Texas City School, where Brandy was a senior, was lined with blue hearts after news of her suicide spread in the city. But while the school authorities might not be directly implicated in Brandy’s death, the fact that they could not act knowing that she was being targeted online is surely cause for concern.
Melissa Tortorici, Texas City Independent school District’s director of communications, said the school was a warm place for Brandy.
“She had a lot of friends and was thought of warmly by her peers and teachers. She did bring it to the school’s attention before Thanksgiving break that she was getting harassing messages to her cellphone outside of school,” Tortorici said.
Even so, Brandy had confided about her online abuse to her teachers, but not unlike the police, the school could not trace the bullies who were targeting her, and consequently could not take action. Texas is one of the states in the United States that still does not have specific laws regarding cyberbullying, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center.
As Chron reports, an anti-bullying law took effect with the 2012-13 school year in Texas, which states that schools have must a policy covering written, verbal or physical bullying at school, but it does not cover behavior away from school.
Data suggests that as many as 34 percent of American teens are cyberbullied, with a further three out of those five students stating that it really affected their ability to learn and feel safe at school.
While it is still not known if Brandy Vela’s online tormentors came from her school, but her death will remain a haunting reminder that we need to do more to protect our kids both in school and outside it.
[Featured Image by Oksana Mizina/Shutterstock]