The family of a 12-year-old New Jersey girl who took her own life in June is planning to sue the school district she attended, saying she was relentlessly bullied for months before a "preventable tragedy."
The family announced Tuesday in Roseland, alongside with their attorney, that they’re suing the Rockaway Township school district because they say it did nothing to stop months of bullying that led to Mallory Grossman’s suicide.
Mallory was an accomplished cheerleader and gymnast who family and friends say was well-liked and sociable. But her family’s attorney says she was tortured for months by several girls online.
Beginning last October, Mallory would come home and tell her mother about "the dirty looks and the constant harassment and the name-calling and the cold shoulder, the exclusion," to the point that the girl suffered chronic headaches and stomachaches, and her grades plummeted, her mother says.
The family repeatedly asked school officials for help to stop the bullying, Nagel said, but the school district did nothing. The day Mallory died by suicide, her mother had gone to the school to complain — yet again — that her daughter was being relentlessly bullied.
"For months, there were texts, there was Snapchat, there was Instagram. For months she was told she's a loser, she has no friends. And finally, she was even told, 'Why don't you kill yourself?'" said family attorney Bruce Nagel, who said a cellphone could be "a lethal weapon" in the wrong hands.
The messages were "vile and malicious," Nagel said. Two of the last Snapchats sent to the girl were taken on school grounds, without Mallory's permission, her mother said.
Mallory's mother, Dianne Grossman, says she believes schools have a responsibility "to look a little below the surface."
"Dirty looks, snide comments, things like that are important for administrators to pay attention to. It's not enough to say, 'We don't have evidence.' Just because it's not in writing doesn't mean it doesn't hurt," she said. "To a child who's 12, constant dirty looks, it does change the makeup of who you are."
Nagel said the family will sue the Rockaway Township school district for gross negligence. The family is also considering suing the parents of "three or four" children for allowing the bullying to go on for months. Mallory's mother said the night before her daughter died, she spoke to the mother of one of the alleged bullies, and the mother dismissed it "and said it was just a big joke and defended her daughter."
It's not clear why Mallory was targeted. Her mother said because Mallory was popular, an athlete, a quiet child and a good student, "she kind of represented what they couldn't be," Dianne said. "She had a target on her back. It really was about the humiliation and the intimidation."
"It's hard to understand that while she had a great circle of friends and she was liked among her peers and active, that still doesn't quiet the noise of the girls that didn't like her and who decided to put a target on her back and constantly taunt her," said Dianne Grossman.
Though New Jersey has some of the strongest Harassment, Intimidation and Bullying (HIB) laws in the nation, the school district never filed a mandatory HIB report, Dianne Grossman alleges.
The Rockaway Township school district had no comment, but in a self-assessment last year it gave Copeland Middle School an "A" grade of 94 percent for how it dealt with bullying at the school, including in the areas of curriculum and instruction, investigation procedures, and incident reporting.
A number of families from Morris County told News 4 that cruel comments posted online are a far bigger problem than face-to-face bullying, and that cyberbullying is even an issue with young kids in elementary school.
"There are a lot of people putting things on Instagram, and other people make mean comments, and I just hate it," said 10-year-old Eric Gjelsvik.
Morris County Prosecutor’s Office spokesperson Fred Snowflack said that the investigation into Mallory’s suicide is still under investigation.
Mallory’s former gymnastics coach remembered her as a good student and athlete who was popular among her peers.
“Wonderful child – sweet, smart, kind, quiet,” coach Paula Gehman said.
According to her obituary, Mallory loved the outdoors and would often donate her own money and handmade jewelry for sick children.
Her family announced Tuesday they've set up a nonprofit foundation in the girl's name, called Mal's Army, to educate people about bullying and to prevent it.
A GoFundMe page set up for Mallory’s family has raised more than $75,000 in her memory.
If you are in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or reach out to the Crisis Text Line by texting ‘Home’ to 741741.