After months of bullying, a 12-year-old New Jersey girl killed herself. Her parents blame the school.
For months, 12-year-old Mallory Grossman received the taunts in text messages, Instagram posts and Snapchats.
She was a loser, they told her. She had no friends. At one point, according to an attorney for Mallory's family, the girls even asked her, "Why don't you kill yourself?"
In the classrooms and hallways of her middle school in Rockaway Township, N.J., the group of sixth grade girls continued to torment her. They would tease Mallory, give her dirty looks and snub her, shooing her away from their lunch table.
The taunts, her parents say, soon took a toll on the lively young cheerleader and gymnast. At school, Mallory's grades deteriorated. At home, she complained of constant headaches and stomach pain. She begged to stay home from school.
After the bullying began in October of last year, Mallory's parents spoke to her teachers, counselors and school administrators - along with the students' parents - pleading with them to help put an end to the ugliness.
Then, on June 14, Mallory took her own life.
Her suicide sent shock waves through her school district and wider community in New Jersey, home to one of the toughest anti-bullying laws in the nation.
On Tuesday, Mallory's parents announced their intent to sue the Rockaway Township School District and its administrators "who ignored months of pleas to stop this," their lawyer, Bruce Nagel, said, alleging "gross negligence"
Nagel said he will file the notice of an intent to sue in the next few days, and plans to file the lawsuit in the months that follow.
"We are here today to bring light to the fact that this small device can be a lethal weapon in the hands of the wrong child," Nagel said holding up an iPhone in a Tuesday news conference.
Rockaway Township School District attorney Nathanya G. Simon told NorthJersey.com that the district had not yet received the Grossmans' lawsuit notice.
"We anticipate that we will be able to make a statement soon," Simon told the paper.
The Grossman family may also pursue legal action against the parents of the three or four girls who they say bullied Mallory. Mallory's mother, Dianne Grossman, said she spoke to the mother of one of the girls the night before Mallory took her own life.
The mother dismissed the bullying, telling Grossman it was just a "big joke" and that she should not worry about it, Grossman said at the news conference. Three minutes after Grossman asked that the woman's daughter stop texting Mallory, the girl sent a series of text messages to the 12-year-old, the family claims.
Each month since they became aware of the "relentless" taunts, the Grossmans say they complained to administrators, who promised to look into the allegations. Even hours before Mallory took her life, her parents met with school officials, begging them to do something. They requested that administrators file a mandatory Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying (HIB) Report, but the school never did, Grossman said.
When Mallory's grades took a hit, school officials focused meetings on her academics.
"They were not at that time concerned with her emotional well being," Grossman said, even though her daughter's usual A and B grades had plummeted to Cs and Ds.
"There was a pattern, a regular history, pattern of the school dismissing my concerns," Grossman said.
Some of the cyberbullying against Mallory - at least two of the girls' Snapchats - took place on school property, Grossman said. In Mallory's final days, her parents were trying to move her to a private school, but "unfortunately she didn't give us a chance to do so," Grossman said.
The mother said she believes the girls directed their taunts at Mallory out of resentment.
"She was popular within her own circle, Grossman said. She was an athlete, a "quiet child" and a "good student," Grossman said.
"I think that she kind of represented what they couldn't be, Grossman said.
The Grossman family was fairly new to the school district - they moved to town about three years ago.
"It's hard to understand that while she had a great circle of friends and she was liked among her peers and she was active," Grossman said, "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."
Such snide remarks, dirty looks and intimidating messages can be extra hurtful during middle school, a complicated time when adolescents' bodies and hormones are changing, and when social status at school means everything, Grossman said.
Grossman said she wishes the school had tried to gather the parents at the school to address the issue. She said she hopes this lawsuit might remind parents of the importance of constantly monitoring their children's use of technology and social media. They should not assume that "'my child would never do that.'"
She also criticized the fact that the school touted its self-assessed A grade in recent anti-bullying reports, giving itself a score of 74 out of 78 in the most recent self-assessment posted on the district's website.
New Jersey's anti-bullying laws were toughened after an outcry over the suicide of a Rutgers University freshman, Tyler Clementi, in 2011. Just before he jumped to his death off the George Washington Bridge, Clementi found out that his roommate and another classmate had been using a webcam to spy on him having sex with another man, exposing his encounters on social media.
The new laws demanded more staff training and quicker reporting of bullying. They require that schools monitor, investigate and document episodes of child bullying. Superintendents who don't to comply could lose their licenses, and students found responsible for bullying can be suspended or expelled.
In the aftermath of Mallory's death, her family is creating nonprofit foundation to combat bullying, called "Mal's Army," Grossman said.
Mallory had two sisters and a brother. Her "beautiful soul and free spirit touched so many of us during her dynamic 12 years," her family wrote in her obituary. She was described as a compassionate, creative young girl who loved nature, the outdoors and "flowers, every color and shape."
She was "always crafting something" and often made and sold jewelry to raise money for her favorite charity, Camp Good Days, which provides summer camp experiences for children battling cancer and other illnesses.
"It was her giving spirit and love for all people and things that drove her to move mountains," the obituary read.
"Mallory was our teacher," her family wrote. "She taught us how to love each other as only a child can."
Samantha Schmidt is a reporter for The Washington Post's Morning Mix team.