In the opening moments of the video, Amanda Todd flashes a brief smile. Fifteen years old, her hair long and curly, she is holding a white piece of paper in front of the camera. “Hello!” it says, in black marker. (The bottom of the exclamation mark is shaped like a heart.) Without saying a word, she flips to the next page in her pile. “I’ve decided to tell you about my never-ending story,” it reads. Again, Amanda Todd smiles.
What transpires over the next eight minutes is utterly heartbreaking. At last count, more than five million YouTube users have watched it unfold.
Using only her printed words, the B.C. teenager recounts the despair and isolation of her adolescence—how a brief encounter with a cyberpredator triggered relentless bullying that followed her from city to city, school to school. “In 7th grade I would go with friends on webcam,” she wrote. “Then got called stunning, beautiful, perfect, etc.” A stranger on the other end asked her to lift up her shirt. “So I did.”
A year later, the man tracked her down on Facebook and threatened to share the footage unless she “put on a show” for him. When Todd refused, she received a knock on her door. “It was the police,” she wrote. “My photo was sent to everyone.” Devastated, she turned to drugs and alcohol. Her friends abandoned her. Later, when she transferred to a different school, the man found her again and shared the pictures with her new classmates. “I can never get that photo back,” she wrote on one of her flashcards. “It’s out there forever.”
Shunned and ridiculed, she ate lunch alone. She enrolled in yet another school—and another. But the bullying and the beatings did not stop. Todd drank bleach, hoping to die. When that didn’t work, she tried to overdose on pills. “Every day I think why am I still here,” she wrote. “I have nobody. I need someone.”
Seven weeks after filming that video, Amanda Todd was found dead. After so many attempts, she had finally managed to kill herself.
Her death has generated headlines around the world, triggering the inevitable rhetoric about anti-bullying strategies and the need for tougher legislation to crack down on seedy Internet predators. Christy Clark, the premier of British Columbia, posted her own video, full of pronouncements about how “bullying has to stop” and “everyone needs to feel safe at school.” But it appears that everyone—from school officials to police to Todd’s own parents—knew exactly what was happening. And that’s what makes this story so tragic: nobody can say they are shocked by the outcome.
Repeatedly, Todd told her own mother that she wanted to die. “We talked about how it would make her family and friends feel worse for a long, long time. She understood that,” said Carol Todd, speaking to a Vancouver radio station. “But with mental health—something didn’t click . . . She was really sad and she didn’t like how she felt. It overwhelmed her.”
There is hope, of course, that Todd’s story can somehow make a difference. Maybe the next bully will think twice. Maybe the next victim will find strength in her plight. Strangers across the country have already organized impromptu memorials for a girl they never met, and dozens of Facebook pages have been launched in her honour. “She was very courageous and I really love that she made that video,” said her father, Norm. “She told me why she made it: she wanted to send a message out so that it wouldn’t happen to someone else, so no one would have to go through what she went through . . . No matter how many haters there are out there, they can’t hurt her now and her message can keep going strong.”
Sadly, there are still haters out there. Even in death, Todd remains a target. One Facebook user uploaded a doctored photo that made her look like a zombie holding a bleach bottle. “I hope they sell Clorox in Hell,” the poster wrote. Another said Todd probably killed herself because “she was lazy.”
The RCMP is investigating—not only the mystery man behind the web cam, but the online commenters who have been trashing her memory. “We’ve got upwards of 20 to 25 full-time investigators that are working on this to try to gain enough information and enough evidence to potentially lay charges,” said one Mountie. (Police have also set up an email address for tipsters: firstname.lastname@example.org.
One tip was quickly deemed a priority: Anonymous, the infamous online “hacktivists,” independently posted the name, address and email of the man they say tried to blackmail Todd with her topless photos. They identified the culprit as a 32-year-old New Westminster, B.C., man who—in yet another twist—was recently arrested on unrelated charges of sexual assault and sexual interference of a minor. (Anonymous, it turned out, was completely wrong. The man they fingered had indeed corresponded with Todd online, but he had no involvement in the photos that made her a target—or the bullying those pictures triggered.)
If police do eventually track down the real culprit, it will be too late for Amanda Todd. Even if she was still alive, an arrest may not have prevented her suicide. As she wrote on one of those pages in her video: “What’s left of me now? Nothing stops.”