Another young life was cut short this week, her family says the result of relentless bullying. Brandy Vela shot herself in front of her parents in her home in Texas City, Texas, after her sister, Jackie, received a concerning text from Brandy saying, “I love you so much, please remember that, and I’m sorry for everything.” Her parents ran home where they found Brandy in her room with a gun. They were unable to stop her.
Brandy was 18 years old.
According to her sister, Brandy had been the victim of school bullies who mocked her weight in an untraceable app. They also made fake profiles for Brandy on dating websites and left her phone number and wrote in her profile that she would “give herself for sex for free.”
“People would make up fake Facebook accounts and they would message her and she wouldn’t respond and they would still come at her,” Jackie said. “They would say really, really mean things like, ‘Why are you still here?’ They would call her fat and ugly. She was beautiful, absolutely beautiful; the only thing people could find to pick on her was her weight.”
The family said they reported the bullies to police several times before Brandy’s death but to no avail. They also reported the bullying to the school shortly before Thanksgiving break, however, officials could not identify the perpetrators at the time and told Brandy to change her phone number.
Though many adults see bullying as “just part of being a kid,” it can be a serious problem for some to fully comprehend how to respond and manage. According to the CDC, suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, resulting in about 4,400 deaths per year. Bullying victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University.
According to the CDC, understanding the relationship between bullying and suicide is important in that it “raises awareness about the serious harm that bullying does to all youth involved in bullying in any way,” but framing the discussion that bullying is the single cause of suicide can be dangerous. The CDC warns that it can “perpetuate the false notion that suicide is a natural response to being bullied, which has the dangerous potential to normalize the response.” While there are many other factors to consider, I imagine those are of little consequence when it is your child who decided to end their life rather than deal with the continuing harassment from weak, cowardly individuals.
Texas City Police Captain Joe Stanton told CNN that detectives were conducting interviews with Brandy’s family and will be following up with potential suspects and tips they have received. They will also be speaking to students this week about the impacts of cyberbullying.
Unlike bullies of our generation, there is no escaping online interaction. Cyberbullying reaches kids anywhere, at home or in other places where our kids should feel safe. It is widespread and obstinate. It is not restricted by school hours, location, or physical strength. It seems to have a mob mentality where “likes” and “comments” add to its power and collateral damage.
Vela’s bedroom is now covered in Post-It notes reading, “You will always own a piece of my heart,” and “You will never be forgotten.” Meanwhile, her family is left to mourn a senseless, unnecessary tragedy.