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Risk

6/3/2008
02:44 PM
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Cyberbullying Conference Fights For Online Victims

Tina Meier, present at the New York City conference, knows there's little she can do about the suicide of her 13-year-old daughter Megan, except embark on a crusade to protect other children.

Jeffrey Johnston would have worn a cap and gown to get his diploma Sunday.

He didn't make it because, after being bullied online, he killed himself.

So, his mother asked the guidance counselor reading graduates' names to whisper "Jeffrey Scott Johnston" when it would have been his turn to walk down the aisle.

"I knew he would be there," Debbie Johnston said, as she spoke about the worst consequences of cyber bullying at a Stop Cyberbullying conference Tuesday at Pace University in New York.

Johnston was an exceptional child, the sixth in a family of seven. His brothers and sisters called him the "golden child." They were certain that someday he was going to change the world. Maybe he would come up with a cure for cancer.

He grew his hair to 14 inches -- when long hair wasn't cool -- so he could donate to "Locks of Love," a charity for cancer patients whose treatment caused their hair to fall out. He knew how to keep a secret and enthusiastically recruited friends to a neighborhood "gang." He kept a binder to record the "gang's" bylaws and history.

In seventh grade, a classmate started rumors and told the girl who liked Jeff that Jeff had said bad things about her. Jeff had no idea it was a fault not to be able to dribble a basketball -- until the classmate taught him otherwise. Jeff, who stood nearly six feet tall and weighed nearly 160 pounds, began to feel so self conscious about his body that he could not bear to remove his shirt at a water park.

The boy who had recruited and collected so many friends found himself alone.

"It's hard to believe you can have so many friends who distance themselves," Debbie Johnston said. "If they sat with Jeff, if they stood up for Jeff, they would have come under fire."

After three years, Jeff couldn't take it anymore. At 15, he went upstairs to his bedroom one night and killed himself. His mother and his brother Joe found him the next morning.

 

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