The sheriff who arrested two girls for allegedly bullying a 12-year-old into committing suicide says authorities are trying to decide whether they can also charge one of the suspect's parents.
The pair — ages 12 and 14 — were arrested Monday and charged with third-degree felony aggravated stalking in connection with the death of Rebecca Sedwick, of Lakeland, Fla., who jumped from a cement factory tower Sept. 9.
Rebecca, who authorities say was bullied relentlessly for months, was "terrorized" by as many as 15 girls physically and online. One message to Rebecca said she should "drink bleach and die.''
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said Tuesday that the bullying began after the 14-year-old suspect began dating a boy Rebecca had been seeing. She "began to harass and ultimately torment Rebecca," Judd said, and prodded the 12-year-old to join in.
The younger suspect has shown "remorse and cooperation" over the incident and was released into her parents' custody, according to the Polk County Sheriff's Office. The older suspect, described by Judd as "very cold," remains in juvenile custody.
The sheriff said authorities are still investigating the girls, and also trying to decide whether the parents should be charged.
"I'm aggravated that the parents aren't doing what parents should do," Judd told reporters. "Responsible parents take disciplinary action."
Judd told NBC's Today on Wednesday that investigators so far have found no criminal charges that could be filed against the parents, "but if we can find contributing to the delinquency of a child, we would certainly bring that charge."
He said the parents of the 14-year-old suspect are in "total denial."
"They don't think there is a problem here, and that is the problem," he said. Judd added that the girl's parents gave her back her Facebook access even after learning about her alleged bullying of Rebecca. "That's terrible," he said. "That's why we moved fast to lock their daughter up."
The sheriff said the tipping point leading to the arrests came when the older suspect allegedly posted on Facebook on Saturday: "Yes ik [I know] I bullied REBECCA nd she killed her self but IDGAF [I don't give a (expletive)]"
"We decided, look, we can't leave her out there," the sheriff told reporters. "Who else is she going to torment? Who else is she going to harass? Who is the next person she verbally and mentally abuses and attacks?"
The suspect told deputies that her Facebook account was hacked and that she did not write that post, WTSP-TV reported.
A man who answered the phone at the older suspect's Lakeland home told the Associated Press that he was her father and said that "none of it's true."
"My daughter's a good girl, and I'm 100% sure that whatever they're saying about my daughter is not true," he said.
A man who answered the door at the home of the younger suspect identified himself as her father. He told WTSP that he had lost a daughter himself years ago and that his whole family is devastated over what happened to Rebecca.
"I feel horrible about the whole situation, but like I said, there's two sides to every story," he told the Tampa TV station.
"The day that this happened, we all felt super horrible. I've even brought my daughter numerous times to the grave where she jumped. She even went over there and prayed at night, but that's all that can be done right now and I can't really say too much more," he said.
John Borgen, the boyfriend at the center of the feud between Rebecca and the two suspects, said he was "shocked" by her suicide.
"(It) made me mad because she should have just told somebody," Borgen told WTSP. He said he knew as many as 15 girls from school were teaming up against his former girlfriend, but never expected what happened.
"They need to take life seriously," Borgen said. "Why do you need to be bullying somebody?"
Rebecca's mother, Tricia Norman, told reporters that the day the arrests were announced was "really rough," WTSP-TV reported.
"It is bittersweet for me," she said. "There's some relief. There's some regret. There's some sadness because of her birthday being this weekend."
Norman, who has created an anti-bullying page on Facebook in her daughter's name, said the suspects needed help.
"I can't say that I want these girls to spend the rest of their time in jail or any time in jail, but they do need serious rehabilitation," she told reporters.
Rebecca's mother said both girls were former friends of her daughter and that the younger girl had even been in her home for a slumber party.
"I had to ask her to leave because of problems with other girls. She was doing bad things and gossiping; she made other girls cry," she said. "I told her she had to leave. I always had a bad feeling about that girl."
Sheriff Judd, noting the suspects have clean criminal records, said that the girls — if convicted — are not likely to serve much time in jail, if any.