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Statement from "Duck Dynasty" Family; Was Rebecca Sedgwick Bullied to Death; Interview with Kaitlyn Roman; Should Parents Be Held Responsible for Kids' Online Bullying?

Aired December 19, 2013 - 23:00   ET


DON LEMON, CNN ANCHOR: It is 11:00 in the east. Do you know where your news is? I'm Don Lemon. This is THE 11TH HOUR, what you'll be talking about tomorrow.

On a night when everybody is talking about the outrage over "Duck Dynasty," we're reminded that words have power. It's not just words from reality TV stars, it's also words from teenagers, in person and online. This is not just kids being kids. This is the kind of thing that one heart-broken mother says caused her 12-year-old daughter to kill herself. But was bullying actually to blame? And do you know what your kids are doing and what they're doing online?

We'll get to that story in just a moment, but I want to start with some breaking news. A statement out tonight from the "Duck Dynasty" family: "While some of Phil's unfiltered comments to the reporter were coarse, his beliefs are groundings in the teaching of the Bible. Phil is a godly man who follows what the Bible says are the greatest commandments, love the lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself. Phil would never incite or encourage hate. We're disappointed that Phil has been placed on hiatus for expressing his faith, which is his constitutionally protected right. We have had a successful working relationship with A&E but, as a family, we cannot imagine the show going forward without our patriarch at the helm. We're in discussions with A&E to see what that means for the future of 'Duck Dynasty.'

And we'll have more on this story a little bit later on in this show.

Now I want to turn to the story that is every parent's nightmare. Your 12-year-old daughter leaves for school one morning and you never see her again. It happened to Rebecca Sedgwick's mother. But was her daughter bullied to death or was something else going on?

CNN's Deborah Feyerick has the story.


TRICIA NORMAN, MOTHER OF REBECCA: Her brother and stepbrother. That was last Christmas.

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): To her family, Rebecca Sedgwick was a normal 12-year-old kid with a big heart and goofy sense of humor. She seemed happy until the day she changed her screen name to That Dead Girl and then killed herself.


FEYERICK: Grady Judd is the sheriff in Polk County, Florida.

JUDD: When you stand over a 12-year-old child that's dead, jumped from a cement silo, your heart is broken forever.

FEYERICK: Her mother says Rebecca was being bullied in school and online. Hateful messages and texts sent on popular social sites such as Facebook.

NORMAN: I think the biggest one that stood out to me was "Drink, bleach and die. Go kill yourself. You're ugly. Nobody likes you. I hate you. Why you are still alive"?

FEYERICK: Officials at Crystal Lake Middle School changed her classes to keep her away from the bullies. When that didn't work, her mom pulled her out of sixth grade to home-school her instead. She thought she was safe. But for a text-savvy child, shutting out the world is not simple.

NORMAN: I gave her my old cell phone for her to get a text- messaging app on so she could contact her friends.

FEYERICK: Rebecca found her way back online to the students allegedly tormenting her.

MATTHEW MORGAN, TRICIA NORMAN'S ATTORNEY: She wanted to see what was going on in her world. And unfortunately, in her world, there were bullies that's were tormenting her literally to her death.

FEYERICK: It wasn't just Facebook and Instagram. Rebecca also had accounts on and Kick.

MORGAN: It is clear that directions that these bullies were giving was "kill yourself." You know, "End your life because we hate you so much."

FEYERICK: It's unclear why Rebecca ultimately snapped. CNN reviewed portions of her journals and the police report. There were signs of family problems, evidence of bullying, and a reported breakup with a boy. When, in early September, she climb the tower she could see from her home and jumped.

JUDD: Two arrests we made last night.

FEYERICK: Soon after, Sheriff Grady Judd arrested two of the girls who had apparently been bullying Rebecca online, releasing the children's names even though they were minors.

JUDD: And she killed herself but I don't give a --

FEYERICK: Guadalupe Shaw and Kaitlyn Roman were charged not for Rebecca's death but for stalking, charges later dropped in exchange for court-ordered counseling.

Although both girls posted nasty messages on social media sites, through their lawyers, they have each denied responsibility for Rebecca's death.

JUDD: They didn't get away with it at all. Had we not arrested them, they never would have been required or volunteered for such counseling. So it was a win-win.

FEYERICK: Critics say the sheriff overreacted by charging the girls and that he failed to focus on all the other warning signs that Rebecca was in trouble. For example, in her written journal, she talks about suicide. "I go to bed every night hoping it will be the last time." Also, "People don't know how it feels to be hated by everyone that used to be so close."

Online, Rebecca posted the results of a depression test. While it's unclear she took the test herself, it concludes, "You're having suicidal thoughts. This is a serious warning sign and you must seek help quickly."

There is also an Instagram image that reads, quote, "Sometimes I just want to disappear and see if anyone would miss me."

Sheriff Judd said Rebecca had been inundated with hateful comments on sites like and Kick.


FEYERICK: For anyone using or trying to monitor the sites, because posts can be made anonymously, it's extremely difficult to say who is saying what and, therefore, very difficult to trace.

Rebecca's mom admits she didn't know the extent of her daughter's life online and the signs of trouble brewing there. She and her attorney are now trying to get a law passed making parents of bullies libel for their children's behavior.

MORGAN: It really starts at home. The children learn everything from their parents.

FEYERICK: Bullying is already illegal in Florida. Rebecca's lawyer wants to attach even stronger penalties, including community service and juvenile detention.

MORGAN: Kids need to know it's actually a crime.

FEYERICK: While it's a start, none of it will take away the pain Rebecca's mother feels every day.

(on camera): How do you deal with the silences that have been left by Rebecca?

NORMAN: I still talk to her. I sleep with one of her stuffed animals. FEYERICK (voice-over): She knows now what she would have done differently on that terrible day.

NORMAN: I would have taken her cell phone in the room with me and, when my alarm went off at 6:30, rather than jump in the shower, like I always did, I would have walked out there and just hugged her and said, baby, talk to me.


LEMON: CNN's Deborah Feyerick.

Now I want to bring in one of the girls who was accused of stalking Rebecca Sedgwick. The charges against Kaitlyn Roman were dropped last month. She joins me now along with her mother, Michelle Gill.

Welcome to both of you.

How are you doing, Kaitlyn?


LEMON: Yeah? When do you first remember meeting Rebecca?

ROMAN: Well, it was when I first started middle school in sixth grade. I met her in a class. Instantly, we became friends.

LEMON: What was she like? You were friends with each other, right?

ROMAN: Yeah. She was so nice and fun. I loved hanging out with her. He would do everything together.

LEMON: So what happened with that friendship?

ROMAN: Well, one of the girls had told me like Rebecca was a liar and that I shouldn't be her friend. And I didn't want to get bullied by her because she had all these other girls on her side. So I stopped being friends with Rebecca.

LEMON: So whether did you become Guadalupe Shaw's -- a girl -- the other girl accused in connection with this case?

ROMAN: Well, I met her at school, too, in one of my classes I had also with her.

LEMON: Yeah. Did she bully Rebecca?

ROMAN: I don't know if she did. But according to the messages she did have some part in it.

LEMON: Did you bully Rebecca?

ROMAN: I mean, I would probably -- could have handled things differently. But I don't believe that I bullied her. I think I could have handled things differently, yes. But I did not bully her.

LEMON: What would you have done differently?

ROMAN: Well, maybe I could have, like, not listened to Guadalupe and been her friend and stay there for her. But I was scared. I didn't want to get bullied.

LEMON: Mom, I want to talk you to. The school informed you that Kaitlyn was bullying your daughter?

MICHELLE GILL, MOTHER OF KAITLYN: Did the school inform me that Kaitlyn was bullying --

LEMON: That -- that your daughter was bullying Kaitlyn. Pardon me.

GILL: That Kaitlyn was bullying Rebecca?



GILL: No, they did not call me. No, they did not.

LEMON: How did you find out?

GILL: When my daughter was arrested in my front living room.

LEMON: And you are -- I understand that, you know, as I reported at the top all the charges have been dropped. You didn't find out until your daughter was arrested in your living room. I would imagine you're pretty angry about it.

GILL: In a million years, I never thought that they would arrest Kaitlyn. I thought they would have gone further into this. There were numerous people at Kaitlyn's school that this happened to. I did not think that they would be arresting my child.

LEMON: Kaitlyn, did you --

GILL: And, yes --

LEMON: Go ahead, mom.

GILL: And, yes, it upsets us greatly. And it makes -- it would make any parent angry to have their child dragged out in handcuffs out of their own home.

LEMON: Kaitlyn, did you know that he, Guadalupe, told Rebecca to "Drink bleach and die"? What did you know about that?

ROMAN: I didn't know that. But when I found out that she had said that, I thought, oh, my god, how could she have said that? I had known Guadalupe. I didn't think she could say something like that.

LEMON: Did you know she was being picked on at school and online as well?

ROMAN: I didn't know that. We had got -- me and her had got into a fight and I didn't know other people were bullying her. I just know that Guadalupe probably was, and I didn't want to get bullied by the other kids.

LEMON: I'm sure you remember and all of your friends and people at the school remember when they found out about Rebecca's death.

ROMAN: Yeah. When I found out, I was in class. They had said, yeah, Rebecca died. I was just like, no, she didn't, stop lying. I was like, she can't die, she couldn't have. And then someone showed me on their phone and I was like, oh, my god, she's gone. And I started to cry. I was so mad at the world, you know, that she was gone.

LEMON: Kaitlyn, I want to ask you how -- if you have any advice for other young people -- this epidemic in the country not only bullying in person but bullying online. You see the repercussions. You see the damage. Your friend took her own life. You were arrested along with other girls. What do you say to kids?

ROMAN: Stop being a bystander. Speak up. It could cause someone's death. And you don't want to lose a friend.

LEMON: Mom, what about the parent? What about parental responsibility? Because there are experts who say that parents should be responsible. They should know what their child is doing. Even if the children is a bully or is -- the child is the one who is being bullied. You have to know at all times what your kids are doing.

GILL: I feel that parents should be more educated. The schools are now offering programs, which I'm taking, to find out how to get online to be able to check your kids' Facebook, to be able to operate a computer, because I didn't know how. Schools are offering those programs now and I'm taking full advantage of those programs. And I want to make sure that my child is doing the responsible thing.

LEMON: So your advice to parents is to know and to get informed, correct?

GILL: If any child can get on a phone when you're not there, then at least be able to be there when you can be. The cell phone today, for any child, if they take it to school, you can't watch a cell phone. And that's the only kind of Internet that me and my daughter had, was a cell phone.


Kaitlyn, Michelle, best of luck to you. Thank you very much.

ROMAN: You're welcome.

LEMON: Next, a crucial question in all of this, what can parents do to stop online bullying? We're going to debate that, and whether parents can be held legally responsible. That's next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

LEMON: I'm Don Lemon. This is THE 11TH HOUR. You can follow us on Twitter, @the11thhour.

Our topic night, online bullying. Charges were dropped against the two girls accused of stalking Rebecca Sedgwick. But should parents be held responsible for what their kids do online?

Here now, is CNN's legal analyst, Mark O'Mara; and Dr. Carol Lieberman, a forensic psychiatrist involved in this case; and Dr. Harold Koplewicz, the president of the Child Mind Institute.

Mark O'Mara -- Mark, I'm sorry. I mispronounced your name there. But you know we go way back.


LEMON: So, listen, Mark, I want to ask you --

O'MARA: Go ahead.

LEMON: -- d you think what these two girls did lead to Rebecca's suicide?

O'MARA: I think it was a contributing factor. We can't make believe it was in and of itself the only thing that caused it. Rebecca had some other concerns going on that made her more susceptible to this negative influence. But you can't look at something like Guadalupe's comments of "Drink bleach and die" and not believe it had some significant effect.

LEMON: Also, as I've been saying all evening here, the charges were dropped against the girls, all the charges. They're 13 and 14. Yet, their mug shots were put out there and names and information. Do you that is right, Mark?

O'MARA: Honestly, with juveniles I think we should be more cautious in how they approach prosecution. Another problem is, in Florida law, those actions probably were not illegal. We now have a bill pending in the Florida legislature to make those types of activities illegal. But the sheriff tried to go forward on his stalking charge and, honestly, with the pending laws, it just didn't fit. We just need new laws to address it.

LEMON: Doctor Lieberman, you are a forensic psychiatrist. You've counseled the Roman family. How is Kaitlyn dealing after this? How is the family doing? I understand she is in an anti-bullying program?

DR. CAROL LIEBERMAN, FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGIST: Well, you know, she's trying to hold up under all of this. But she's a victim as well. You know, her face being plastered all over the world, essentially, made to feel guilty for what she did, when really she wasn't a part of the bullying. It's very sad. First, so Rebecca's mother wants to blame everyone other than herself. Rebecca herself had been in the hospital about a year before, less than a year before, for having tried to cut her wrists. And so they were warned at that time that Rebecca needed to be in psychiatric treatment. And her mother didn't follow-through with that. There were lots of problems that Rebecca had, problems with her family, her father. You know, I'm not going to go into the details with that, but lots of family problems.

And plus, before that, she had boyfriend problems. One boy in the school that Guadalupe wanted. She wanted to get rid of Rebecca --


LIEBERMAN: So she could have her (sic) and so on. So those were bigger problems that any kind of alleged bullying.

LEMON: Rebecca's parents are not here to defend themselves. And so I will ask the question, I'll play the advocate here and say, isn't that blaming the victim? Because even Kaitlyn just admitted she could have handled the situation better.

LIEBERMAN: Kaitlyn felt very sad that Rebecca died. She went over as soon as she heard about it. She went to the mother's house and she tried to tell her how bad she felt, not because she bullied her, but because Rebecca wanted to be her friend, and she didn't -- Kaitlyn was caught in between. Kaitlyn had been bullied, as she was starting to say. And so she was kind of hiding behind her or needing Guadalupe as a protector. So it's very sad all the way around. It's just that it's not right to blame these two girls for something that happened all these months later. We have to all look at our own responsibility in this.

LEMON: Speaking of responsibility, Dr. Koplewicz, do you think that -- how do you feel about the parental responsibility here? You heard Kaitlyn's mother say, listen, I didn't really -- I didn't know how to get online. The only thing I have is a telephone. I'm getting trained now. What is -- how are parents responsible here?

DR. HOWARD KOPLEWICZ, PRESIDENT, CHILD MIND INSTITUTE: I think that there is something very important here. The society we live in has become cyber and filled with social networking. And it is the responsibility of every parent to be aware of this. It's not a matter of kids' games. And at the end of the day, parents have to know where their kids are hanging out. So if you're child is going out at 12 years of age to someone's house, you'd like to know where they're going, what time they're coming home. You set a curfew and you check it out. When your kids are going online, it means the same thing. And that means, if you say to your kids, I'm going to be part of your online presence, I'm going to check the sites, I'm going to be aware of where you are going to be, not only because I want to control you, but I want to keep you safe. And the Internet can be a wonderful place. We have lots of information. But it also can be a very dark and difficult place.

And the other part that has to be understood -- and I understand that Dr. Lieberman wants to protect Kaitlyn. At the end of the day, schoolyard bullying is a very, very tough thing for most kids to take. There are few kids who are resilient and able to rise to the occasion. But we know that cyber bullying is schoolyard bullying that becomes intensified. It is almost exaggerated. So everybody you know can come online and see your shame and see what has happened to you. And kids who do have psychiatric disorders or kids who have sexual or gender differences or kids who are socially awkward are just more susceptible to the effects of bullying.

LEMON: Right.

Mark, an anti-bullying law was filed yesterday in Florida. It's based on what happened to Rebecca, correct?

O'MARA: Well, it is. We actually started that because of Rebecca's event. And the Senator, who is working on it as well, had even started before then. The bill that's been pending right now or filed doesn't address parental responsibility. I think it should. The one that I drafted did. But at least it's a good start to make -- what these children are doing to each other. It's no the just Guadalupe. Being 10 and 12 years old is a horrible time for children to go through. So we have to look at it --


LEMON: So let me ask you this, because you said you wish it did, do you think parents should be held legally responsible?

O'MARA: The bill we drafted said if the prosecutor can show gross negligence by a parent or just complete ignorance of their child's behavior online, then they should be held responsible. I know that's different to do. Let's be realistic. We hold parents responsible for their kids. They can't let them near guns or in the car. If a kid breaks a window down in the neighborhood, mom and dad are responsible for. The fact that they turned these kids into -- the Internet into a babysitter for the children only means that those children are on there without the rules and maturity to act appropriately, and the parents have to accept responsibility.

LEMON: All right.

Thank you.

LIEBERMAN: But what about --

LEMON: Go ahead. I'll give you the last though.

LIEBERMAN: What about being responsible? OK. What about being responsible? Like what Rebecca's mother said? I don't mean to blame the victim. Bullying is a horrendous problem all over. But Rebecca's mother says she wishes she could have talked to her. She would have talked to her that morning. That's the key. That's what all parents should be doing. Yes, they should be responsible.


LEMON: Of course --


LEMON: Go ahead, Mark.

O'MARA: Sorry. Even those that are bullied, of course, they need to be aware as well. All parents need to. But the idea of not holding parents responsible is a mistake and we're going to sort of bear the fruits in the future if we're not careful. These kids are not going to get better if we don't help them.

LEMON: Yeah.

Important conversation. Thank you very much.

And sorry. I apologize for the delay there.

Mark O'Mara, Dr. Carol Lieberman and Dr. Harold Koplewicz, again, our thanks to you.

When we come right back, what teenage bullies have in common with the star of "Duck Dynasty."


LEMON: We talked tonight about the power of words, words from teenagers, words from reality TV stars, words from entertainers and politicians. Now I want to share my response when a friend e-mailed me after I said on Pier's show last night that "Duck Dynasty" star, Phil Robertson, should not be fired for his offensive comments. He said he was very disappointed in me. And I said I believe in free speech. I don't think Alec Baldwin, nor Martin Bashir, nor Paula Deen should have been fired. They can be ridiculed and dragged over the coals. It is our right of free speech to do it. But fired, no. I wouldn't want you to be fired for your opinions, your beliefs, or something stupid coming out of your mouth. We all say dumb stuff from time to time. Learn from it, grow, and move on. So while I vehemently defend Phil Robertson's right to say harmful words, I do think he should be more responsible. All of us should be more responsible. To have a platform on a cable news network or a record label or a TV show is an incredible opportunity. And as a Christian, Mr. Robertson could count his blessings.

I'll see you back here next week at 7:00 p.m. eastern here on CNN. For THE 11TH HOUR, I'm Don Lemon.

Brooke Baldwin and "In Case You Miss It" starts right now.