WMBF Investigates: Bullied to the Brink

MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - Death threats and relentless bullying have become a tragic normality not just nationwide, but in your children's hallways. Tonight, more parents are coming forward and pushing for help, but so far, it's been met with lackluster results.

Three students in three different grades at three different schools in Horry County are now coming forward to share their stories of relentless bullying while the school district remains silent on the topic. The circumstances surrounding the latest bullying accusations may be different, but the core complaints from parents are exactly the same: a lack of communication and sensitivity to the topic.

"They wrote Michaela Bingham should die. She should kill herself," Tonya Strong says, remembering the day her daughter came to her. "That's serious stuff when someone writes that someone should kill themselves on a bathroom wall for a whole entire school to see."

Those words are tough to forget for 16-year-old Michaela Bingham.

"I can't get away from it," she says. Online, at school -  everywhere she turned, there was relentless harassment from a female student and her friends.

"It just feels that the school doesn't care enough," Michaela says. "There was this one time when I was receiving texts during class and they said 'We're going to come find you.' So I went to the SRO officer and he just said 'it's just middle school drama, we're not dealing with it.' At that point, I just felt like nobody was going to do anything about anything."

Tonya's continued push for answers from Socastee High School left her grasping at air.

"They passed me from the principal to the assistant principal to the counselor to the SRO officer," Tonya recalls. "It's just a never-ending circle that nobody wants to take care of."

At her wit's end, Tonya transferred Michaela from Socastee High, only to find the harassment and frustrations didn't stop.

"I've had at least eight officers tell me, there's more serious cases going on here," Tonya explains. "And I know there are more serious cases. These small incidents lead up to big incidents, and if you don't take care of them when they're small, then something bad is about to happen. And they don't seem to get that, and they don't seem to care about it."

Horry County Police responded to the latest incident in May when Michaela and her step-brother ran into the same group of girls while walking their dog near Garden City Pier.

"My daughter made a stupid decision to walk back past them but it's dark on the beach, but she doesn't deserve to be hit and spit on. That's the main valid point here. This has been cyber-bullying and words and hatefulness and threats, and even though it's come to a very small head, it's still not being taken care of. Does she have to get her butt kicked severely? Because if her step-brother wasn't there to help her, that would have been five girls on top of her. She could have ended up in the hospital," says Tonya.

After seeing the case in Central Florida where 12 year-old Rebecca Sedwick leapt to her death after being aggressively bullied by other girls, Tonya says it's not hard not to think about what could be.

"I'm trying to prevent a situation that's bound to happen," she says, which is the same argument being made by Tammy Davis, a mother of a bullied 7th grader at North Myrtle Beach Middle.

"I said it will be on your conscience if something happens to him, because you won't do anything," Tammy says. At 13, her son's large stature hasn't given him immunity from bullies.

"My son got threatened verbally saying they would come to our house with AKA 47s and shoot up his family," Tammy explains. "I brought that up to the authorities. I went there and addressed what can I do about this and they just laughed it off and told me that was just 13-year-old kids being 13-year-old kids talking."

In an interview, WMBF Anchor Heather Biance asks, "How close were those threats in proximity to his suicide attempt?"

"I would say within like maybe two weeks tops," Tammy responds. "I came home and found that he was trying to hang himself, but then somehow word got leaked out at school and he got made fun of for that."

Tammy's son feels no one takes him seriously at school. All while the bullying continues to escalate.

"I get the disciplinary report and all it says is 'horse playing in the bathroom.' Student A and Student B went into slap boxing, not once does it say my son was body slammed, but yet they told me that a student admitted to it. So I have a problem with that. Looking at the disciplinary report going forward, I would look at it that my child was the problem."

And she worries how a misinterpreted disciplinary report might impact his future.

"Nobody is perfect. My son is not perfect," Tammy says. "I understand kids say things, I understand my kid says things, but that doesn't mean he deserves to be hit by somebody."

The latest research shows at least two to three students in a typical class of 25 students will be bullied. Of those, one will experience bullying for a long duration. Those are the ones Dr. Andrew Terranova is most deeply concerned about.

"Research is clear: when it's persistent, when it lasts long period of time, that's when the worst outcomes happen," explains Dr. Terranova.

Bullying may not be a crime in the legal stance, but as we have seen time and time again, young kids are taking drastic measures to escape the ridicule.

Terranova says, "If you think about it. If any of those things happened to adults in the workplace, it wouldn't be tolerated. So I think we owe it to these kids to do what we can even though we don't have all of the answers at the moment."

We want you to use this opportunity to talk with your kid to talk about bullying. See the sidebar for resources to talk to your kids about bullying, or click here: http://bit.ly/1qjtNzh

If you are having issues with your school, you don't have to settle with a lack of response. There is a chain of command to follow so you know who to contact and when.

1) Contact your son/daughter's teacher

2) Principal of school

3) David Beaty, Coordinator of School Safety and Security. Phone number: 843.488.6835

Email: dbeaty001@horrycountyschools.net

4) Executive Director - in Horry County:

A) Dottie Brown is the executive director for grades PK - 5th grade. 843-488-6935

B) H.T. (Tim) Lee is the executive director over all the middle schools. 843-488-6908

C) Velna Allen is the executive director over all high schools. 843-488-6767

5) School Board members broken into districts based on where you live: http://bit.ly/1mILFFz

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