Parents, community seek answers, action after 12-year-old’s suicide

Gabbie Green’s family hopes that by sharing her story, change will come to their community and lives could be saved.

Her parents, Shane and Tanya Green, say that 12-year-old Gabbie, whose given name was Gabriella, took her own life and they feel that adults at Surfside Middle School in Panama City Beach, Florida, failed her. The seventh-grader died on January 10; the medical examiner told CNN that she died from hanging.

Two 12-year-old classmates have been charged with cyberstalking Gabbie before her death. Police say that the cyberstalking wasn’t the sole cause of Gabbie’s death, but that it was going on at the time.

In a statement, Gabbie’s parents asked the school district to establish a plan of action to eliminate bullying and to properly discipline bullies at the school.

“As a community we must work hard to prevent another tragic loss of life that would devastate another family. Bullying is not unique to our family; it is a national epidemic. Our community, our nation, must not only hold the children that bullied our daughter accountable for their actions and help to rehabilitate them, we must hold the school administrators and teachers accountable for failing to intervene,” the statement said.

Gabbie’s best friend, Ana Bastien, and her mother, Alena Turpin, told CNN that Ana also has been bullied at the school. Turpin said when she told the school that another student had threatened to fight Ana, she never heard back from the district about what had been done.

“They said they would handle it. Nothing ever came of it,” she said.

Turpin and Ana told CNN they knew Gabbie was being bullied and was bothered, but had no idea that she would do something like take her own life.

And although police say cyberstalking wasn’t the only factor in Gabbie’s death, her parents and friends say it took a terrible toll.

“They called her names and stuff,” Ana said. “She just got really upset that they were spreading stuff around about her. She mentioned suicide before, but like — joking. I was really shocked because I never actually thought she’d do it.”

Bay District Schools officials said that they could not comment on specific cases, but have procedures in place when bullying has been reported to the district. In a statement, Lee Stafford, director of student services said, “Bay District Schools has a comprehensive process for investigating reports of bullying and our administrators are trained thoroughly regarding the process which includes interviewing witnesses (where available) and providing appropriate discipline and/or support plans for all students involved.”

Turpin is hoping for a change in the district’s policy.

“On the web page for Surfside, it says ‘zero tolerance’ for bullying. Obviously, there is not. They need better policies — and they need to enforce them,” Turpin said.

She is also calling for harsher punishment for the two accused of cyberstalking Gabbie. Cyberstalking is a misdemeanor offense in Florida.

“We plan to protest at the courthouse to make the penalties worse. These kids are going to think this is all a big joke, and it’s not. Cyberstalking, bullying like that shouldn’t be a misdemeanor. You’re dealing with a child’s life. These parents can still go home and see their child. [The suspects] can see their best friends. The Greens can’t see their child. My daughter can’t see her best friend. It’s not fair,” Turpin said.

In a school board meeting on Tuesday, parents asked board members for immediate changes. Steve Moss, vice chairman of the district, told CNN affiliate WMBB, “For me, education is going to be the critical part of this, or at least the first step in making sure everyone knows what we expect of them, both from an employee standpoint and also our students in general,” he said.

The school district said it continues to train staff on the latest research-based strategies for preventing and identifying, bullying. The district is holding a workshop soon for parents and the community on cyberbullying.

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