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Suicide rocks Mt. Abe community, family points to online bullying

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Posted on October 11, 2013 |
By Zach Despart



Olivia Scott 1.jpg
MOUNT ABRAHAM JUNIOR Olivia Scott took her own life Oct. 9. / Photo courtesy of the Scott family.

Editor’s note: The following contains graphic language.

BRISTOL — The suicide of a Mount Abraham Union High School junior this past Wednesday has left the Bristol school and many in the surrounding towns reeling, and the girl’s family is pointing to bullying at school and online as a cause.

Olivia Mae Scott, 16, of New Haven ended her life on Oct. 9 at her family’s home on River Road.

Family members and a family friend point to specific examples of bullying that Olivia endured in the month leading up to her death.

Bethany Scott, Olivia’s older sister, said Olivia had an account on the website ask.fm. On the site, anonymous posters can ask questions on a user’s page, and the user can answer them. Olivia posted regularly on the account for the last three months, up until the day of her death. The account, which was available to be viewed on Friday, showed some disturbing messages. While many of the questions and posts directed at her were mundane, several demeaned Scott’s appearance and others encouraged her to harm herself.

 On Sept. 26, a user posted, “youre gross.” On Sept. 23 a user asked, “Why do you like attention so much?” On Sept. 12 and again on Sept. 15 a user posted, “youre ugly.” In September, a user posted, “All I know is you’re a (expletive) and very (expletive) ugly and you should take yourself off this earth,” “youre ratchet and should probably kill yourself,” and “Do it Do it.” On Sept. 29, a user asked “what school do you even go to?” Scott responded, “mt abe but its just like hell.”

On Oct. 10, an anonymous user posted on the ask.fm page of one of Olivia’s friend, which the Independent viewed. The post read “Glad that bitch is deaddddd.” Bethany Scott believes this was in reference to her sister.

Bethany Scott said that while the posters were anonymous, Olivia knew they were classmates from Mount Abraham. The site, which has been used as a platform to bully others under the blanket of anonymity, has been linked to several suicides in the United States and United Kingdom in the last few years.

Bethany Scott said her sister was bullied by her classmates at school, and on social media platforms Facebook and Twitter, in addition to ask.fm. Scott said her sister was also bullied via text messages, and that the family would attempt to retrieve these messages from their service provider, Verizon,in order to better understand why Olivia took her life and to aid in any possible court action.

Bullying was a daily ordeal for Olivia, Bethany Scott said. It got so severe that Olivia would stay home from school. She was absent on the Monday before her suicide. Bethany Scott said her sister approached guidance counselors and the school nurse about bullying, and that she herself called a guidance counselor, concerned that Olivia might engage in self-harm.

“Olivia didn’t want to play on the basketball team this year because she was bullied,” Bethany Scott said.

Bethany Scott, who graduated from Mount Abraham in 2010, said bullying was, and is, a serious problem at the school.

“My friends had to call the cops on people,” she alleged. “The school doesn’t care, and nothing gets done.”

Family friend Heather Hamilton said her daughter, who graduated from the school in 2011, was also bullied. Hamilton was critical of Mount Abraham officials, who she felt did not address bullying seriously.

“The school doesn’t do anything about it,” Hamilton said.

“People need to be aware that a lot of this goes on,” said Pete Scott, Olivia’s father.

Bethany Scott said her family wants to tell the story of Olivia’s bullying so incidents like this don’t happen again.

“We don’t want this to happen to anyone else,” Bethany Scott said. “She thought the only way for her to be happy was to not be here, and that kills us.”

SCHOOL RESPONSE

Addison Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent David Adams said Vermont State Police confirmed to school officials Wednesday that a student had died. Students were permitted to go home, with their parents’ permission, and students and teachers were permitted to use class time to talk about what had happened.

Adams said to his knowledge, no faculty or staff members were aware that Scott may have been bullied.

“We looked into that matter, we looked into that matter quite quickly,” Adams said Thursday. “We have no evidence of that, and as I understand it, law enforcement has no evidence of that at this time.”

Adams said Mount Abraham does have an anti-bullying curriculum.

“In health classes, students are given some general information, about do’s and don’t’s,” Adams said.

The school put on an anti-bullying assembly last year, hosted by John Halligan, whose own 13-year-old son took his life in 2003 after being bullied by classmates.

MAUHS Principal Andy Kepes declined to comment and referred questions to the superintendent’s office. Co-Athletic Director Mary Stetson, who coached Scott on the field hockey team, said the team met Wednesday and decided to play the rest of their games as scheduled, but declined to comment further.

Phone calls to the Vermont State Police and the Addison County State’s Attorney’s office were unreturned as of press time.

Adams said school officials would use this incident to re-evaluate their approach to bullying.

“Any time we become aware of a situation like this, we look for ways to improve our responses,” he said. “We’re aware of some other needs we could put more resources to.”

School officials will continue to investigate allegations that Scott was bullied, Adams said.

“If we’re aware that there was some school policy violation, we’ll certainly follow up on that,” Adams said. “We’re really in this crisis response mode right now. We’re trying to get back to a sense of normalcy.”

Bethany Scott said she and other family members were going to meet with Vermont State Police Friday and provide authorities with evidence of online bullying.

Calling hours for Olivia Scott will be held Monday, Oct. 14, 4-7 p.m. at Sanderson Funeral Home in Middlebury. A memorial service will be held Tuesday, Oct. 15, at Mount Abraham Union High School at 6 p.m. See the full obituary here.

At the Scott residence Friday, family members passed through to mourn for Olivia. Family photos were spread out on the coffee table.

“We’ve been sleeping with her blanket, and I’m wearing all her clothes,” Bethany Scott said. “We just want her back.

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