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Torment becomes a video game

It's been nearly a month since 12-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick leaped to her death from an old cement factory tower in Lakeland, Fla.

Polk County police said the girl had been the victim of a non-stop campaign of cyberbullying via social media by at least 15 of her peers.

She had already been pulled out of one school to escape her tormentors, was home-schooled for a time, and finally transferred to another.

For a while, it seemed everything was OK, and though her mom had done her best to monitor her daughter's online activities, it wasn't enough.

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told reporters, "We can see from what we've investigated so far that Rebecca wasn't attacking back. ... She appeared to be beat down."

Rebecca's was a disturbing tale, which I found to be a pity and a shame and an outrage.

How could anyone be so mean as to mercilessly and endlessly bombard a beautiful child with messages like "Why are you still alive?" and "Go kill yourself"?

I read one account of the tragedy and saw that Facebook and Twitter users had recommended others. To borrow some digital age lingo, Rebecca's sad story was trending all over the social media.

As the days went by, though, I did as most journalists probably do when a troubling event intrudes upon their consciousness — I locked it away in a little box in my mind with the hopes that its sharp heartache would be dulled by time and buried under whatever senseless tragedies would inevitably follow.

Life went on. Work. Family. Home. My immediate concerns can't be kept at bay for very long and I went back into triage mode.

About a week later, I learned that Rebecca's mom, Tricia Norman, is my sister-in-law's cousin.

The lid to the box had been cracked open.

Suddenly, this wasn't just an event that had befallen some poor parent.

Now my family was not far removed from a disturbing phenomenon of our times. Tricia Norman's loss was more closely my own.

I have a 1-year-old girl who my wife says has me wrapped around her finger. And, of course, she does.

As such, I'll have to confess I also believe she's the prettiest, smartest, sassiest thing in the whole world.

Every day it seems I'm watching her personality come into being. I can see her strengths and tendencies that are distinct from her brother's. She's nosy, like him, but much more observant. I'm afraid she's doomed to become a reporter.

She's all toddler now and loves to chase me down and say "Gotcha!" as she embraces me in a tiny hug.

I hold her little frame against mine and try to memorize my child being small enough to wrap entirely in my arms.

Who couldn't love this beautiful, darling creature?

And an unsettling thought entered my mind.

Maybe there will be someone out there who doesn't. Maybe there'll be a gang of them. And who knows what kind of electronic deviltry will exist to vex my baby when she is beyond my arms and making her first forays into the world?

Obviously, the answers are unknowable.  And, frankly, there is no sense worrying about them as there is a need to be aware of them.

But the more I think about it, if these things happen, I don't think it will be a matter of someone not loving my daughter — or anyone else's child, for that matter.

That threat to our children isn't going to come from some futuristic gadget; it's going to be something as ancient as jealousy and fear and pride.

Accounts of Rebecca Sedwick's troubles say it began over a boy. Then people who once were her friends turned against her.

When I was a kid, most any harassment could be locked out once inside the confines of one's home. At its worst, I suppose, one could take a phone off the hook.

But we've become more wired these days. Just about anything can be communicated just about anywhere.

It may have been the best Rebecca's mom could do to delete her daughter's Facebook account, but she couldn't stop the child from wanting to have a voice in the electronic void, the lingua franca of this generation.

Unfortunately for her, that voice carried. It wasn't long before her tormentors tracked her down and eventually killed her — first her spirit, and then her body.

In a world where remote controls deliver entertainment —and death — perhaps we have become what we behold: remote and disconnected.

We are blips, bits, bytes and avatars, heads bowed, unseeing of another person's eyes, losing sight of the windows into their souls.

Torment becomes a video game, a drone strike. We don't see our targets as people anymore.

If there's ever going to be any hope of stemming this tide of meanness and lack of caring, we are going to have to turn inward and truly discern what it is we want to have valued of ourselves and then look for the same in others.

Jesus Christ said this much more simply: love your neighbor as yourself.

It has to start somewhere.

Maramba is managing editor of the Daily Mail. His e-mail address is Philip@dailymail.com.


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