The parents of a 14-year-old Lakeland girl who authorities accuse of bullying another girl into suicide said Wednesday they checked their daughter's social media accounts regularly and saw no signs of harassment.
They said their daughter's Facebook account was hacked and that she did not post an unremorseful admission of guilt, the final straw for investigators who arrested the girl on a stalking charge Monday.
They said their daughter doesn't deserve the “nightmare” she is going through, more than a month after 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick jumped to her death.
In an interview with ABC News, they said their daughter is “lovable” and were upset with how Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd has portrayed her in the media.
Judd said the 14-year-old's parents are in denial, and “that IS the problem.”
Judd told NBC's “Today” show on Wednesday that he would charge the parents with a crime if he could.
“They don't think there's a problem here,” Judd said. “It's kind of like the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. That's what we have here.”
Judd admitted the case struck an emotional chord, adding he still can't understand how the parents — knowing their daughter was under investigation — still allowed her to stay on social media, where much of the bullying took place. They also did not cooperate with detectives during the investigation, Judd said.
“The parents are in denial and they even let her have her Facebook access after she bullied this child and after they knew it,” Judd said. “That's terrible. That's why we moved fast to lock your daughter up.”
The 14-year-old and a 12-year-old were taken into custody Monday and released to their parents. Both face charges of felony aggravated stalking. The older suspect was later remanded into custody by a judge. The younger suspect was released by the judge after cooperating with detectives and showing remorse.
TBO.com is not identifying the suspects because of their age and because they are not accused of acts of violence. At a news conference Tuesday, however, Judd gave their names and showed their photographs.
The parents of the 14-year-old were incensed by Judd's portrayal of their daughter as “very cold” with “no emotion.”
“My daughter don't deserve to be in the place she's in right now and I just hope that the truth comes to the surface so we can get out of this nightmare,” her father told ABC News.
They said they are the parents of seven children and were involved in all of their lives — including checking the Facebook account and cellphone of their 14-year-old.
“I would check her Facebook every time she would get on it,” the suspect's mother told ABC News.
“If we saw something that was not right, we would've addressed it and it would've ended right then,” the father said.
Both were “sure” their daughter's Facebook account was hacked before a Saturday morning post that pushed detectives to make arrests before the investigation was complete. The post included a profane, unremorseful acronymn about Rebecca's suicide, “IDGAF.”
Judd read the post to reporters Tuesday: “Yes, I bullied Rebecca and she killed herself but I don't give a ... you can add the last word yourself.”
The parents told ABC News they would have addressed such inappropriate language with their daughter immediately.
“No, she wouldn't write anything like that,” the mother said. “She's not that type of girl that would just say something like that.”
The family of the 12-year-old suspect did not answer their door or telephone seeking comment from local reporters, but told ABC News they felt responsible for what happened.
Judd said that family also did not cooperate during the investigation, but the father said he would have done more to help had he known more about social media.
“I feel horrible about the whole situation,” he said. “It's my fault, maybe that I don't know more about that kind of stuff. I wish I did.”
Authorities said Rebecca was tormented online and at school by as many as 15 girls before she climbed a tower at an abandoned concrete plant in Lakeland and hurled herself to her death Sept. 9. But the two girls arrested were primarily the ones who bullied Rebecca, Judd said.
The bullying began in Decmber 2012 while the three girls attended Crystal Lake Middle School after the 14-year-old started dating a boy Rebecca had been seeing, according to investigators.
About a year ago, the older girl threatened to fight Rebecca and told her “to drink bleach and die,” the sheriff said. She also convinced the younger girl to bully Rebecca, even though they had been best friends.
The girls repeatedly intimidated Rebecca and called her names, the sheriff said, and at one point, the younger girl even beat up Rebecca at school.
Rebecca was hospitalized for three days after cutting her wrists because of what she said was bullying, according to the sheriff. As the bullying continued, Rebecca's mother, Tricia Norman, said she began home-schooling her, and Rebecca started the fall attending Chiles Middle School.
However, the bullying continued through social media.
Before her death, Rebecca changed one of her online screen names to “That Dead Girl” and she messaged a boy in North Carolina: “I'm jumping.” The boy did not tell anyone his friend was suicidal.
Detectives said they found some of Rebecca's diaries at her home, and she talked of how depressed she was about the situation.
“It's rough,” Norman said after learning of the arrests Tuesday. “Today is bittersweet, there is some relief, some regret. There is some sadness with her (Rebecca's) birthday is this weekend. It is bittersweet with mixed emotions.”