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Allegations of online bullying linked to apparent suicide of Bardstown Ind. middle schooler; superintendent: "We want answers..."

Kentucky Standard, Bardstown, Dec. 31, 2014

Middle-schooler’s suicide linked to online harassment
By Forrest Berkshire

Harassment could have contributed to a 12-year-old girl’s apparent suicide, which has left family, friends and school officials searching for answers during the Christmas holidays.

Harley Reagan Carter overdosed on the evening of Dec. 18, officials have confirmed. She died Dec. 23 at Kosair Children’s Hospital in Louisville. The cause of death has yet to be stated by the Jefferson County Coroner’s Office, which ordered an autopsy performed.

The Bardstown Middle School seventh-grader was remembered for her “spunky personality” by her family.

“She enjoyed being around all animals. Every animal that she had was named after some type of food. This was because of her love of food,” her obituary read. “Her last gift to others was being an organ donor.”

Allegations of bullying have inundated social media since Carter’s overdose, ranging from grief over the girl’s death to charges that the school system did not do enough to protect her.

“Her death just shows what bullying does to people and it needs to stop,” one poster commented on Twitter under the hashtag PrayForRay.

“It makes me sick to know that somebody could hurt someone so much to make someone do this,” another user tweeted.

The Standard couldn’t confirm whether those posting to social media knew Carter or the details of the alleged harassment.

But one of her classmates said she was surprised by Carter’s actions.

“She was beautiful, very popular,” said Olivia Cissell, a seventh-grader who knew Carter.

“Bullying, it’s an issue everywhere, no matter where you go. It’s bad when someone gets to the point when someone feels like they need to take their life,” Cissell said. “It must have been really bad.”

Several teachers and others associated with Bardstown Schools changed their Facebook profile pictures to anti-bullying icons in honor of Carter, and by Tuesday evening, a Facebook page, Pray For Reagan, had 4,904 likes. Another site, GoFundMe.com, was set up by a family friend to help pay for the funeral expenses and had raised $2,220 toward a $10,000 goal by Tuesday.

Billy Hack, Carter’s stepfather, said Monday that Carter had suffered harassment for an extended period of time and some sort of incident transpired with the “same clique of girls” during a ball game the evening of Dec. 18. Hack said the family had previously reported the harassment to school officials.

He did not go into many details Monday, saying the family was still dealing with the grief, but confirmed that it was after Carter returned from the ball game that she overdosed.

Ryan Clark, Bardstown Middle School principal, did not offer many details into the allegations of bullying and said the school is focusing on helping Carter’s classmates deal with the loss of their peer.

“Like the family, we are seeking answers,” Clark said. “It is just a very complex situation.”
Clark would neither confirm nor deny that there was a harassment issue with Carter at the school.

“I knew this student’s family and have talked to them several times,” he said.

He also said the school takes accusations of bullying seriously.

“Anytime there is a report, there is action taken,” he said.

Bardstown Police Chief Rick McCubbin said his department is aware of the harassment allegations, and one of his deputies had made some inquiries, although they had not formally opened an investigation.

McCubbin said when his officers responded to the scene they opened an incident report, which he characterized as unusual for an overdose call.

“An officer just wisely thought, ‘There’s something not right here,’ ” McCubbin said.
Investigators have had follow-up contact with Carter’s family, McCubbin said, but they were giving them time to grieve before pursuing more information. He also said they were in the process of gathering information from the school.

“We’re kind of in a holding pattern to see what the parents want to do,” McCubbin said. “If there are any criminal charges, we certainly are going to look into them.”

Kentucky passed an anti-bullying law in 2008 that requires schools to report certain categories of bullying to school boards and local law enforcement. While the legislation was often termed the “Bullying Bill” or “Golden Rule Bill,” it dealt with offenses that are felonies, according to guidance put out by the Kentucky Department of Education.

“The legislation is actually much broader than just a “Bullying Bill” and focuses on students who are victims of felony offenses,” the KDE wrote in a guideline to assist school districts with implementing the law.

However, it is not required to report misdemeanors to law enforcement, according to the KDE’s guidelines. Many actions that might be considered bullying fall under the misdemeanor criminal statute of harassment.

Many unconfirmed descriptions provided to the Standard in Carter’s case resembled the definition of harassment, which, while not considered a serious crime, can still prove hurtful to the recipients.

The tragedy has left Bardstown School Superintendent Brent Holsclaw searching for answers.

“This is a tragic event and we don’t want to see something like this — either in our school system or anywhere — ever again,” Holsclaw said Tuesday.

“Something happened here,” he said. “We want answers. A child has died here.”

Reporter Jennifer Grote contributed to this report.

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