Parents of 12-year-old who committed suicide say school didn't do enough to stop bullying of daughter
It was June when Dianne and Seth Grossman, along with their 12-year-old daughter Mallory, had what they called an exhaustive meeting at Mallory’s middle school in Rockaway, New Jersey, leading them to decide to take her out of the school.
The Grossmans say they were there to talk with school officials about their repeated complaints that their daughter had been viciously bullied by classmates for months in the classroom, through text messages and social media posts, and they believed the school wasn’t doing enough to stop it.
“They only thing that [school officials] said was, ‘We’re investigating it, we’ll look into it, I know your frustration,’” Dianne Grossman told ABC "Nightline" co-anchor Dan Harris. “And Mallory left there feeling so depleted. She just said, ‘You just made it worse.’ She’s like, ‘You don’t know these girls. You just made it worse.’”
“She was exhausted,” Dianne Grossman added. “I don’t think she felt safe. I think she was really sad.”
Four hours later, the Grossmans said, their daughter took her own life.
“I don’t think you can fathom what it’s like to see your perfectly healthy child gone,” Dianne said.
Now the Grossmans are demanding accountability. On Tuesday, they announced plans to sue the Rockaway Township school district, alleging that it failed to prevent the harassment, and possibly the parents of some of the kids they say bullied Mallory.
“Someone needs to be held accountable,” Seth Grossman said. “New Jersey has some of the toughest laws on the books in the country in terms of harassment and bullying.”
“And what good are the laws if no one follows through with them,” his wife added. “I wasn’t with her eight hours a day. I wasn’t. They were. I was sending them messages saying, ‘These girls are torturing her at school, she’s uncomfortable, she doesn’t feel safe, and they were like, ‘We’ll look into it.’”
Family of cyber-bullied NJ girl who killed herself to sue school district for negligence
Mallory’s mother said the sixth grader loved gymnastics, cheerleading and going camping with her family.
“Mallory to me is the all-American child,” Dianne Grossman said. “She’s just the all-American little girl.”
But during the school year, the Grossmans said they began to realize Mallory was having problems at Copeland Middle School.
“We just chalked it up to the usual, just girls teasing kind of thing,” Seth said. “Then it escalated and got a little more out of hand.”
“She kind of had a target on her back of ‘Let’s just pick on her, let’s make her feel bad,’” Dianne said. “One girl called her fat, one girl called her ugly.”
Her parents say the bullying began in the classroom, where they said some students would kick their daughter’s chair.
“[It’s] not something that the teachers could see, but just that repetitive tapping and calling her names from behind her back,” Dianne said.
Then, they say, the bullying moved on to text messages and social media posts. Seth Grossman said classmates would take “malicious pictures” of Mallory at school and post them online.
“One post, Mallory asked them to take it down and the girl wrote back ‘Never,’ with the smiley face laughing,” Dianne said.
This past spring, the Grossmans said they started to notice some disturbing changes in their daughter, from failing grades to Mallory complaining of headaches and stomach pains and not wanting to go to school. The Grossmans said they repeatedly complained to school officials but their complaints were not taken seriously enough.v
“When there is a repeat complaint, pretty regularly, I think they should have said, ‘You know what, let’s take a stronger look at this and really see what is going on,’” Dianne Grossman said.
Although experts say that teen suicides can rarely be attributed to just one cause, the Cyberbullying Research Center says 34 percent of students surveyed report having been cyberbullied in their life and adolescent girls are more likely to experience harassment.
The Grossmans said the June meeting with school officials had been a rough day, but they didn’t see Mallory’s suicide coming. With their lawsuit, they want to hold responsible the people they blame for their daughter’s death.
“The goal of this case is to give a wake-up call to every family, every school, in every town throughout this country,” said Bruce Nagel, an attorney for the Grossman family. “They need to know cyberbullying is an epidemic and they need to stop this.”
The school district declined to comment to ABC News, but it released a statement on Wednesday, which said it was “aware of the announcement yesterday of the notice of tort claim against the district by the parents of Mallory Grossman. So far, we have not seen that notice.”
“Because the case is still under investigation by the Morris County Prosecutor’s Office, and also the subject of a tort claim, under the advice of legal counsel, The Rockaway Township School District cannot discuss this case in public or with media,” the statement continued. “The teachers, staff and administrators within the Rockaway Township School District are, as they have always been, and will continue to be, committed to protecting the rights and safety for all our students.”
The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office also told ABC News that the case is under investigation. No criminal charges have been filed.
Now the Grossmans say they are hoping to create a national movement they're calling "Mallory's Army" to prevent any more young people from hurting themselves.
“We want to make sure that… she becomes the hero that I think that a lot of children want someone to speak out and speak up for them,” said Dianne Grossman.