Two girls face charge of online impersonation

July 21, 2012

One Acton Middle School (AMS) student got 63 Facebook friends without really trying.

Actually, she’s never even had her own Facebook account, according to her mother.

Now two other AMS girls – accused of creating a Facebook page in her name to deceive her friends into thinking she was making vulgar threats and starting rumors about them – have been arrested. The two suspects are charged with online impersonation, a third-degree felony, Hood County Sheriff’s Office officials said.

The girls, ages 12 and 13, were arrested by Investigator Jimmy Luckie late Monday afternoon, and remain in the Granbury Regional Juvenile Justice Center, Lieutenant Johnny Rose said.

They will soon be visited by a judge who will determine their fate in a detention hearing, officials said. Juvenile Probation Director Beth Pate was on vacation this week so the process was on hold until next week. That process must be completed within 10 business days of the arrest.

The alleged victim’s mother said the emotional conflict between the girls began about a year ago. She did not want to state the cause on the record, but it seemed one of the two in custody couldn’t let go of a grudge. The other suspect had been considered to be a friend by her daughter until she realized what they had done, the mother said.

“We had no idea this was going on,” she added.

The Facebook page, which has been officially seized by investigators, had 63 people listed as “friends.” No other comments can be posted, Sheriff Roger Deeds said. He and the alleged victim’s mother both indicated that the page, which now has a warning that it has been taken over by the Sheriff’s Office and features an officer’s badge, is likely to be deleted soon.

It included a photo of another girl – a young actress – who looks similar to the alleged victim, her mother said. That, combined with displaying the victim’s name, apparently had friends and other schoolmates convinced it was her, according to her mother. More recently, an actual photo of her daughter was posted on the page, she said.

The alleged victim also has a sister who is slightly older. The older one usually is “automatically brought into it” when something comes up at school, the mother said, either being put down by classmates or in defending the other sibling.

The mother said she was “just kind of blown away” that a longtime grudge “become something huge,” and added, “It has truly affected both of my children.”

She said the page included name-calling and other vulgar messages, along with physical threats and false rumors directed toward some of her daughter’s friends. At least some of them responded negatively, she said, and it harmed her daughter’s reputation. One of them even confronted her daughter in an incident that almost became a “physical altercation,” she said.

“It’s caused losing a friendship, as well as almost being physically attacked,” she said, adding that her daughter now has to deal with “trust issues.”

The family first learned of the fake Facebook page after the alleged victim received a threatening text message, then notified an adult nearby. When that adult told the girl’s mother, she immediately contacted a detective.

She indicated that the hardest part may still lie ahead – when her daughter returns to school in the fall.

“We’re afraid of repercussions from other children,” the mother said, but added that, “Children are resilient. That’s the good thing about being a child.

“She is feeling tarnished as far as her reputation. It’s affected her self-esteem. She is beside herself, because she can’t understand what she could have done to deserve it. She’s afraid that when she does see her friends and says, ‘It wasn’t me,’ they’re not going to believe her.”

The two young suspects activated the Facebook page and began posting the false messages about two months ago, when the alleged victim was 11 years old. Since she did not have her own Facebook account, she didn’t realize the online deception was happening until recently, her mother said.

The names of the alleged victim and her family members are being withheld by the Hood County News.

Juvenile cases are handled differently than those of adults. Juveniles could be released to their parents, be put on probation, or placed in the custody of the Texas Youth Commission, according to Hood County Sheriff’s Office Lieutenant Johnny Rose.

Deeds said those under age 17 are not eligible to be released on bond, and children under 10 cannot be charged with a criminal offense. The sheriff stated that this alleged offense, which stems from a relatively new law, is serious and could not be tolerated despite the ages of the girls.

“No matter what the crime is, I’ve got to take them all seriously,” Deeds said. “The way I look at the law, it’s black or white. It will be up to the judge and the attorneys to work out the details.”

Rose added, “The parents of the victim had to endure watching their child suffer the pain that cyber bullying causes. We’re not going to tolerate that kind of behavior. If you plan on doing that kind of stuff, there are consequences. No matter the age, there are consequences to your actions.”

Rose said that the two girls are the first to be charged with online impersonation in Hood County.

The victim’s mother said she hopes this will be a wakeup call to other parents who may get “busy with everyday life” and not notice their child is experiencing or involved in a problem such as cyber bullying.

“You can never be too safe,” the mother said. “I hope it makes children more aware as well as their parents, what could be happening to their children.

“Kids are capable of doing this on their own, without the parents’ knowledge. I feel sorry for the two children that did get in trouble. I feel sorry for the parents. I know that had to hurt them, as a parent, knowing their child did something.”

The father of the alleged victim said it’s “imperative that awareness goes out that these two minor girls were capable of committing a (third-degree) felony. They were doing all this behind our girls’ back. The parents are responsible, and they need to keep a closer eye on what their children are doing.”

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