Even though police have finally arrested the alleged cyberbully of a Texas special needs student, the pain for Shea Shawhan and her family may linger for a while.
Shawhan's alleged tormenter — who had sent the 18-year-old harassing text messages for months (e.g., "I want to rape her then kill her. That will finally make sure she goes away for good.") — is a girl the family knows well.
"When the detectives told me who it was, I literally threw up," Keri Riddell, Shawhan's mother, told KHOU-TV in Houston. "I replayed all those messages in my mind, thinking that I could picture this person doing it and me begging them to stop and they wouldn't stop ... and that scares me."
"It's a whole different pill to swallow when you know who the person is," Riddell added to KDFW-TV in Dallas.
Shawhan is a student at Plano West Senior High School. She was born with a frontal-lobe brain injury that left her with the mental capacity of an 8-year-old and has caused frequent seizures throughout her life. Shea became a target starting all the way back in February, receiving text messages such as:
- "Why are u still here. Clearly no one wants you."
- "Guys don't want to waste their time with u."
- "Why are you still here? Clearly no one wants you. You only have special needs friends and you're ugly and have terrible fashion sense. Honestly your clothes suck."
- "People at West don't want her, that's the reason she has seizures because that's karma."
Shawhan's plight has drawn national attention, including an emotional interview Glenn Beck conducted with her and Riddell, during which Shea, incredibly, offered words of kindness to her bully, who was still unknown at the time.
“You may not like me, that’s OK," Shawhan said during TheBlaze TV broadcast. "But I like myself. And for me liking myself, and being a kind and sweet, loving girl, it doesn’t matter if you don’t like me. I’m going to like you anyways, because that’s what I do."
Beck and Shawhan's mom were moved to tears.
Police had been investigating the case for weeks with no success because the text messages were being sent through a third-party website that allowed them to be disguised as coming from fake phone numbers. But search warrants issued to the company allowed police to track down the user’s IP address, Plano Police Spokesman David Tilley told the Dallas Morning News.
“I want teens to know you can use those services and it will hide your identity for a little bit, but we are able to find out who it is,” Tilley added.
Armed with the IP address, police obtained a search warrant, entered a house, and gathered enough evidence to arrest a juvenile Tuesday afternoon and charge that suspect with harassment, a Class B misdemeanor, KDFW reported.
Police noted that for now it doesn't appear anyone else will be arrested in the case, adding that the since the suspect a minor, no identifiying information would be released.
After the arrest, Riddell posted a message on Facebook thanking police and warning other potential cyberbullies.
"Thank you Plano Police Detective. I wish I could say I am overjoyed here, but there are no winners in this situation," Riddell wrote. "Shea no longer has to worry that she will get another text from this person.....and to all the kids out there sending what they think to be 'anonymous' messages... YOU WILL BE FOUND!!!!"
Riddell created an "I'm with Shea" Facebook page, which has more than 84,000 "likes" as of Thursday afternoon, to support her daughter and spread the message against bullying. And the bright spot in all this is that Shea is widely and deeply loved by many people.
"We can't go anywhere without someone saying, 'There's Shea! There's Shea! There's Shea!' She's famous, and she deserves to be," Riddell told KHOU. "She's a role model, teaching girls and boys to be kind. She is genuine kindness. And you can't say that about a lot of teenage girls."
Here's a report from KDFW-TV in Dallas: