Funeral set for Canadian teen allegedly gang-raped

Posted at 11:25 AM, Apr 13, 2013

By Holly Yan and Paula Newton, CNN

(CNN) — Mourners will say goodbye Saturday to a Canadian teen whose voice was silenced by anguish, but is now amplified by thousands of strangers.

Rehtaeh Parsons, 17, was taken off life support last weekend, three days after she tried to hang herself.

Her family says she developed suicidal thoughts after she was sexually assaulted two years ago, and after a picture of the incident was passed on to friends by phone and online.

The high school student from Nova Scotia became despondent, especially after a police investigation ended without criminal charges, her mother, Leah Parsons, wrote on her Facebook tribute page.

“Rehtaeh is gone today because of the four boys that thought that raping a 15-year-old girl was OK and to distribute a photo to ruin her spirit and reputation would be fun,” her mother wrote. “All the bullying and messaging and harassment that never let up are also to blame. Lastly, the justice system failed her. Those are the people that took the life of my beautiful girl.”

As news of her death spread, so did outrage that police did not file any sexual assault or child pornography charges — even though authorities confirmed a photograph allegedly showing the teen having sex with one of the boys was circulated to friends’ mobile phones and computers.

But on Friday, police in eastern Canada announced they are reopening the investigation.

The HRM Partners in Policing — which includes Halifax Regional Police and a locally based division of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police — said in a statement Friday it was reviewing the case “in light of new and credible information that has recently been brought forward to police.

A demand for answers

By Saturday morning, more than 125,000 people signed a petition demanding an independent investigation on how police handled the case.

The lead petitioner described the decision to reopen the case as “a great step,” but said “if we want real justice – we need to find out why the RCMP did not lay charges in the first place.”

The online activist group Anonymous has also expressed outrage over the case and said it might release the names of teens linked to the alleged rape in an effort to force authorities to pursue prosecution.

“Better act fast,” Anonymous warned Canadian law enforcement in a statement.

RCMP spokesman Cpl. Scott McRae said the new information that led authorities to reopen their investigation “did not come from an online source.”

“We can talk to a witness, we can verify the person, we can substantiate some of the information that has come forth, and that is a good thing,” McRae said.

McRae said investigators hope reopening the case will encourage those with information to come forward, “but we have to advise the public that we can’t accept reports through social media.”

Not alone

The Nova Scotia case is similar to the recent case in Steubenville, Ohio, in which two boys were convicted of rape.

In that case, lurid text messages, cell phone pictures and videos as well as social media posts surrounding the sexual abuse of a girl emerged during trial. It attracted the attention of bloggers and Anonymous, a loosely organized hacking activist group.

After word spread about the case, Anonymous told Nova Scotia Justice Minister Ross Landry that “justice is in your hands and supports the legal machinery to move forward with charges.”

“We do not approve of vigilante justice as the media claims. That would mean we approve of violent actions against these rapists at the hands of an unruly mob,” the group said. “What we want is justice. And that’s your job. So do it.”

Jason Barnes, partner of the teen’s mother, said the family does not “support the publishing of the names” in the case — which has shocked Canada. “We are not looking for some kind of vigilante justice. We just want justice.”

The group said it took only a few hours to identify the boys who assaulted her.

“This wasn’t some high-tech operation that involved extracting private messages from someone’s Facebook account. Dozens of e-mails were sent to us by kids and adults alike, most of whom had personal relationships with the rapists. Many recalled confessions made by these boys blatantly in public where they detailed the rape of an inebriated 15-year-old girl,” the group said.

The group said that declarations from police and prosecutors that there wasn’t enough evidence for an arrest “should be viewed solely as an admission of incompetence on their part.”

“These sad little boys had no fear whatsoever about admitting publicly their crimes and even spreading photographic evidence of it. Why were they unafraid? They believed no one was ever going to do anything to stop them and they were right,” the group said.

Every officer that signed off on the “no evidence” conclusion, Anonymous said, “should be guarding the entrance to a petting zoo for the remainder of their careers,”

CNN’s Joe Sterling contributed to this report.