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Funeral held for Canadian teen allegedly raped and bullied

By Holly Yan and Paula Newton, CNN
updated 11:28 PM EDT, Sat April 13, 2013
Canadian teenager Rehtaeh Parsons, who was allegedly gang-raped and bullied, was hospitalized after she tried to hang herself on Thursday, April 4. The high school student from Halifax, Nova Scotia, was taken off life support three days later. Two 18-year-old men face child pornography charges in connection with the case. Canadian teenager Rehtaeh Parsons, who was allegedly gang-raped and bullied, was hospitalized after she tried to hang herself on Thursday, April 4. The high school student from Halifax, Nova Scotia, was taken off life support three days later. Two 18-year-old men face child pornography charges in connection with the case.
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Canadian teenager Rehtaeh Parsons
Canadian teenager Rehtaeh Parsons
Canadian teenager Rehtaeh Parsons
Canadian teenager Rehtaeh Parsons
Canadian teenager Rehtaeh Parsons
Canadian teenager Rehtaeh Parsons
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • More than 100 people attend the girl's funeral in Nova Scotia
  • 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons died Sunday, three days after trying to hang herself
  • Her family says she was raped and and a photo was circulated, but no charges were filed
  • Police say they're reopening the probe after getting "new and credible information"

(CNN) -- More than 100 people gathered at a church in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Saturday for the funeral of a 17-year-old girl who hanged herself after she was allegedly gang-raped and then bullied when a picture of the incident went viral.

Mourners at St. Mark's Anglican Church remembered Rehtaeh Parsons for her caring nature and love of animals, CNN affiliate CTV reported.

Her cousin, Angela, said the eulogy included "memorable stories of our beloved Rehtaeh."

Nova Scotia Premier Darrell Dexter attended the funeral.

"I came to the service today first and foremost as a father trying to imagine what kind of incredible, unfathomable grief could be visited upon a family, and to try and be supportive in this very, very difficult time," he said.

Rehtaeh was taken off life support last weekend, three days after she hanged herself.

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

The high school student became despondent, especially after a police investigation ended without criminal charges, her mother wrote on a 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," Leah Parsons 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."

Police re-open rape probe after suicide

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.

A joint investigation by Royal Canadian Mounted Police and local authorities found "insufficient evidence to proceed with charges," RCMP spokesman Cpl. Scott MacRae said earlier this week.

But on Friday, eastern Canadian police 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 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 late Saturday, more than 200,000 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."

RCMP spokesman Cpl. Scott MacRae 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," MacRae said.

MacRae 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."

A disturbing trend

The Nova Scotia case is one of several involving reports of a teenage girl being raped and then humiliated after photos of the alleged attacks went viral.

In California, three teenage boys are facing charges of sexual battery in connection with the alleged rape of 15-year-old Audrie Pott, who later committed suicide. Santa Clara County Sheriff's detectives said Audrie had too much to drink at a party and was passed out when the boys allegedly assaulted her.

The boys are accused of taking photos of the attack and sharing them at school, as well as texting the images and posting them online.

And in Ohio, two high school football players were convicted last month of raping an intoxicated 16-year-old girl. Graphic text messages, social media posts and cell phone pictures and videos emerged in court. The trial divided the football-crazed town of Steubenville.

The case caught the attention of bloggers and Anonymous, a loosely organized hacking activist group.

A warning from Anonymous

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

The group told Nova Scotia Justice Minister Ross Landry that "justice is in your hands and supports the legal machinery to move forward with charges."

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

"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," Barnes said.

Anonymous claimed 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.

"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."

When evidence goes viral

Rape victim's family: We want justice, not vigilante justice

CNN's Joe Sterling contributed to this report.

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