SARATOGA, Calif. (AP) — A 15-year-old California girl committed suicide after she was sexually assaulted by three of her friends and a photo of the attack surfaced online, an attorney said Friday.
Robert Allard, a lawyer for the family of Audrie Pott, said she saw an intimate photo being passed around online and pieced together from emails and text messages that her friends had victimized her while she slept.
She hanged herself eight days after the September 2012 assault in the upscale bedroom community of Saratoga on the fringe of Silicon Valley.
Allard did not provide additional details about how Audrie was assaulted, but he said she had fallen asleep after drinking at a sleepover.
The Santa Clara County sheriff’s office arrested three 16-year-old boys on Thursday on suspicion of sexual battery in the case.
Sheriff’s officials have not released the names of the suspects because of their ages, or details of the case.
Family members of Pott also believe the attackers tried to destroy evidence.
That claim was posted on a Facebook page for a foundation set up in the girl’s name.
It did not provide further details on what type of evidence might have been targeted by the suspects. However, it asked any students with information to come forward,
The family went into seclusion after releasing the statement. Allard said the Thursday arrests “reopened a wound.”
The Pott family was not alone in wrestling with such circumstances.
In Canada, the cousin of a young woman who committed suicide after an alleged assault and months of bullying issued an emotional appeal to people on Thursday not to use violence to avenge her death.
Angella Parsons stood before a somber crowd of about 300 people in a Halifax park to reflect on the short life of 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons.
The gathering came after Rehtaeh’s family said she hanged herself last week and was taken off life-support on Sunday.
In Steubenville, Ohio, two high school football players were recently convicted in the rape of a drunken 16-year-old girl, an incident recorded on cellphones by students and gossiped about online.
In California, Pott posted on Facebook that her life was ruined, “worst day ever,” then hanged herself, Allard said.
For the next eight months, until Thursday’s arrests, her family struggled to figure out what happened to their soccer loving, artistic, horse crazy daughter, whose gentle smile, long dark hair and shining eyes belied a struggling soul.
“The family has been trying to understand why their loving daughter would have taken her life at such a young age and to make sure that those responsible would be held accountable,” Allard said.
“After an extensive investigation that we have conducted on behalf of the family, there is no doubt in our minds that the victim, then only 15 years old, was savagely assaulted by her fellow high school students while she lay on a bed completely unconscious,” he said.
Allard said students used cell phones to share photos of the assault and the images went viral on the Internet.
Santa Clara County sheriff’s Lt. Jose Cardoza said two of the teens were arrested at Saratoga High School and the third, a former Saratoga High student, at Christopher High School in Gilroy.
Cardoza said the suspects were booked into juvenile hall and face two felonies and one misdemeanor each.
The lieutenant said the investigation is ongoing.
The Associated Press does not routinely identify victims of sexual assault. But in this case, Pott’s family wanted her name and case known, Allard said. The family also provided a photo to the AP.
The assault occurred in Saratoga, a bedroom community on the western edge of Silicon Valley. Once largely fruit orchards, it is now home to about 30,000 people, many of whom are affluent and highly educated.
Saratoga High School, with about 1,400 students, is one of the top schools in the state. Thirty percent of the current senior class are either semifinalists or commended in the National Merit Scholarship Program, and 97 percent of graduates enroll in college.
The girl’s family members have requested privacy until a planned news conference on Tuesday. Her father and step-mother, Lawrence and Lisa Pott, along with her mother Sheila Pott, have started the Audrie Pott Foundation to provide music and art scholarships and offer youth counseling and support.
The foundation website alludes to the teen’s struggles.
“She was compassionate about life, her friends, her family, and would never do anything to harm anyone,” the site says. “She was in the process of developing the ability to cope with the cruelty of this world but had not quite figured it all out.”
Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District Superintendent Bob Mistele offered sympathies to all the families involved in the case.
“Collaborating with our parents, students, staff and community, we will continue to work diligently to maintain a positive climate at our high schools based on respect, responsibility, and open communication that discourages cyberbullying and inappropriate conduct,” his statement said.