KSLA News 12 Investigates: Cyber-bullying and suicide

KSLA News 12 Investigates: Cyber-bullying and suicide [PT. 1]
Danielle Cox (Courtesy: Morton family)
Danielle Cox (Courtesy: Morton family)
Jason Thomas, 18 (Courtesy: Bossier City PD)
Jason Thomas, 18 (Courtesy: Bossier City PD)

BOSSIER CITY, LA (KSLA) - 15-year-old Danielle Cox was a sophomore and Parkway High School in Bossier City. Her mother, Jessica Morton, says she had many hopes and dreams. "When she graduated from high school she wanted to be a fashion designer," Morton says. "She was going to study at the Denver Art Institute and that's what she had planned on doing."


Smiles for Danielle

What made her goal even more difficult to achieve is that Danielle's parents say that she was getting picked on at school because she was diabetic. "Some of the children were saying that she would never be able to be a fashion designer," Morton recalls. "(They said) she was going to lose her legs because she was diabetic and that she was going to be nothing."

They were mean comments made by students aimed at a young girl who was also suffering from depression. "And that's the problem," explains Morton. "Kids don't realize what a person is going through when they're picking on them and they just don't realize what they're words are doing."

Danielle's stepfather John Morton says Danielle turned to a friend on Facebook for support. "Danielle evidently felt like she wanted to harm herself for whatever reason at that moment. She texted a friend of hers, whom we think the world of."

Danielle's family says the Facebook friend was far away in college, and that he called police. But they say that friend also posted Danielle's phone number on his page asking fellow friends to text her with words of encouragement.

Jason Thomas, who was 17 at the time and a fellow Parkway Student, apparently saw that post and responded. Danielle's parents claim that on that same evening of January 24th, Jason Thomas used the web site ClamTXT.com to set up more than 100 taunting text messages. The web site boasts that it's "a web application that allows you to legally text bomb someone, or just text for free. Sound awesome? We know."

KSLA News 12 obtained a copy of the texts allegedly sent by Thomas using ClamTXT.com to Danielle's number. According to phone records, they were messages like "I won't miss you", "You're not important" and "Just end it all."

The Mortons claim that Thomas text bombed Danielle making it appear that many people wanted her to end her life. Hours later, the Mortons say police arrived at their home and that Danielle had taken a bottle of over the counter pain pills and was rushed to the hospital.

Danielle was treated and released, but her parents say she was so troubled by the text bomb, she needed professional help. The Mortons say Danielle returned to school - the same school as Jason Thomas – and the lasting pain from the cyber-bullying incident got worse for Danielle. "After that it was almost a struggle to get her to go to school every day," her mother says. "Of course now I wished I would have pulled her out and just taken her out of school but I just wanted her to keep trucking and get graduated so she could do what she wanted to do with her life."

Instead, Danielle's hopes and dreams faded and on May 20th, the day she took her own life. 17-year-old Jason Thomas was originally charged with Misdemeanor Cyber-Bullying in this case, but the charge has since been upgraded to Felony Criminal Assistance to Suicide.

Thomas' attorney Elton Richey said this wasn't a direct incident of Thomas picking on or tormenting someone intentionally. Richey acknowledged that on the evening of January 24th, his client saw a message on a friend's Facebook page asking people to text someone named Danielle and tell her not to kill herself.  Thomas, Richey explains, thought his Facebook friend was "trolling" or playing some sort of joke on his Facebook friends and that he didn't think "Danielle" was even real.

Richey says that's when Thomas created and sent messages to the phone number on the post as part of a continuation of a joke. After Thomas was "called out" for doing that, Richey says Thomas posted some inappropriate comments. "I think initially what he was bragging about was the idea about what he was participating in which he thought was a prank and that got a reaction out of his friend but not certainly about encouraging someone to commit suicide as he didn't believe that was going on."

Richey says Jason didn't know Danielle Cox, and had no contact with her after the incident. "Here you really have a tragic situation. Had Jason known that there was really a girl out there named Danielle and really planning or committing suicide or thinking about it, he just would not have done it. Just that simple. Wouldn't have happened."

Parkway High School Resource Officer Deputy Paul Hopkins says a school investigation was conducted, even though the incident happened off-campus and that Jason Thomas was allowed back in school.  At the time, Danielle Cox was getting professional treatment and eventually returned to Parkway as well.

KSLA News 12 asked Hopkins if Cox and Thomas were separated at school. Hopkins they were. "What I have seen take place is,yeah they are separated. They're dealt with. If they are on the same lunch shift they're removed from each lunch shift. They are advised to not have contact with each other." 

Danielle's parents say that, at first, the principal at Parkway High School told them Thomas would be removed from school.  "But then it's like the door got shut on that," according to John Morton, Danielle Cox's stepfather. "When we got a phone call, I got the phone call, that said they weren't going to be able to pursue it any further, supposedly being that the text messages came after school."

Parkway High School principal Dr. Nichole Bourgeois says that all students have rights. Bourgeois could not comment on this case because of student privacy, but says the school does have a cyber-bullying policy and that in each case, they conduct a thorough investigation to determine what action to take.

"We do our dead level best on a day to day basis to maintain a safe and civil campus that's supported by solid policy at the district level that we follow at the school level," Bourgeois explains. "We cannot protect every single student every single moment of every single hurt bust we do our dead level best."

Bossier Parish Schools assistant superintendent Scott Smith said the new state mandated school cyber-bullying policy was in place before the text bombing incident in this story, and that police handled the case accordingly.

He said now every school has all of the resources now to deal with this problem.

Thomas, who has since graduated from Parkway, will be tried as an adult, is due to appear in court November 22nd. If convicted, he faces up to ten years at hard labor and/or a $10,000 fine. He has pled not guilty.

Her parents have created a Facebook group, called Smiles for Danielle to raise awareness about what happened to Danielle and to encourage a dialogue about cyber-bullying.

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