MENTOR, Ohio – Sladjana Vidovic's body lay in an open casket, dressed in the sparkly pink dress she had planned to wear to the prom. Days earlier, she had tied one end of a rope around her neck and the other around a bed post before jumping out her bedroom window.
The 16-year-old's last words, scribbled in English and her native Croatian, told of her daily torment at Mentor High School, where students mocked her accent, taunted her with insults like "Slutty Jana" and threw food at her.
It was the fourth time in little more than two years that a bullied high school student in this small Cleveland suburb on Lake Erie died at his or her own hand — three suicides, one overdose of antidepressants. One was bullied for being gay, another for having a learning disability, another for being a boy who happened to like wearing pink.
StopCyberbulling.org founder Parry Aftab says this is the first time she's heard of two sets of parents suing a school at the same time for two independent cases of bullying or cyberbullying. No one has been accused of bullying more than one of the teens who died.
Barbara Coloroso, a national anti-bullying expert, says the school is allowing a "culture of mean" to thrive, and school officials should be held responsible for the suicides — along with the bullies.
"Bullying doesn't start as criminal. They need to be held accountable the very first time they call somebody a gross term," Coloroso says. "That is the beginning of dehumanization."