More social media trouble in Steubenville as authorities mull threat charges
Once again, social media messages are helping to get Steubenville, Ohio, teenagers in trouble, according to authorities.
This time, it’s for allegedly threatening the 16-year-old girl whose sexual abuse by two other teens in August was partially documented in texts, tweets and pictures posted to the Internet.
“People are allowed to be obnoxious and they’re allowed to say crazy things, and that’s fine,” Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine told CNN on Tuesday. “But they can’t under Ohio law threaten to kill someone, and we had to take action.”
A 16-year-old girl is charged with one misdemeanor count of aggravating menacing for threatening the victim’s life, according to the Ohio attorney general’s office. A 15-year-old is accused of misdemeanor menacing for threatening the girl with bodily harm.
They were being held in the county’s juvenile lockup pending a hearing Tuesday, according to Fred Abdalla Jr., chief probation officer for the Jefferson County Juvenile Court.
In one of the tweets, the writer appears to threaten to kill the girl at the center of the rape case. Another warns that she will be beaten.
The messages were among a swarm of tweets posted Sunday, shortly after the verdicts for two teenage boys found guilty of raping the girl by putting their fingers in her vagina while she was too intoxicated to consent during a series of end-of-summer parties last year.
That case prominently featured photographs, videos and text messages documenting portions of the abuse — some of them posted to the Internet by teenagers in the small Ohio River town.
In addition to the threatening tweets, other Twitter users posted messages harshly criticizing the rape victim’s character, according to screen shots captured by a website dedicated to fighting online bullying.
The accounts from which the tweets reportedly originated were either deleted or password-protected Tuesday afternoon.
The girl accused of tweeting the death threat turned herself in after learning that investigators were looking for her, Sheriff Fred Abdalla said.
The other girl reportedly apologized on Twitter before her mother deleted her account, according to the anti-bullying website. The site said the girl’s mother also apologized in a posting, saying her daughter is “in tears and is more sorry than I have ever seen her.”
The sheriff called the arrests a warning to anyone else considering threats against the victim.
“And I can assure you we’ve been monitoring Twitter for 24 hours and continue to,” he said. “If there’s anybody else there crosses a line and makes a death threat, they’re going to have to face the consequences.”
DeWine, whose prosecutors handled the rape case, also warned that any further threats won’t be tolerated.
“People who want to continue to victimize this victim, to threaten her, we’re going to deal with them and we’re go after them,” DeWine told CNN on Tuesday. “We don’t care if they’re juveniles or whether they’re adults. Enough is enough.”
Steubenville has been in a harsh spotlight since the rape accusations became national news in December.
A crime blogger and former Steubenville resident, Alexandria Goddard, uncovered some of the social media documentation of the abuse and wrote pointedly about the possibility that the boys had been given preferential treatment because they played on the town’s highly regarded high school football team. Police have denied that claim.
National media picked up on the case, followed by the loosely organized hacker group Anonymous, which found and posted a lengthy video in which another teenager — who has not been charged — made joking references to the rape.
The ensuing ire over the case brought national attention and criticism to the city from around the country, leaving city officials struggling to defend the community and residents weary of the media spotlight.
On Monday, the victim’s mother told CNN that the verdicts are “the start of a new beginning for my daughter.” But she added, “We need to stress the importance of helping those in need and to stand up for what is right.”
“We hope that from this something good can arise,” she said. “I feel I have an opportunity to bring an awareness to others, possibly change the mentality of a youth or help a parent to have more of an awareness to where their children are and what they are doing. The adults need to take responsibility and guide these children.”
While the verdicts seemed briefly to indicate the case was winding down, DeWine announced a grand jury investigation to determine if anyone else should be charged with a crime as a result of incidents surrounding the abuse.
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