When does bullying become a crime?

When does bullying become a crime?

VANCOUVER, Wash. – The Evergreen School District is investigating the suicide of a 14-year-old girl whose family blames her death on bullies. On Thursday, police said the bullying didn't rise to the level of a crime.

About 200 people attended a vigil for eighth-grade Cascade Middle School student Eden Wormer Thursday night. Wormer's family said the bullying started in sixth grade and never stopped.

But when does bullying reach the level of becoming a crime?

In bullying cases, it's tough to determine when it rises to the level of a crime because often there's some blame on both sides that can muddy the waters.

For a case to become criminal, victims have to be in real fear for their safety.

Eden's sister, Audri, said her sister's decision to end her life involved more than a recent fight with another girl over a boy, but it was the last straw after emotional torment by a group of eighth-grade girls.

"I want justice," Audri said. "I want them to figure out who the people were who tortured her and made her feel like she was nothing, and I want them prosecuted."

The law that covers bullying is harassment. It mostly talks about bodily injury, property damage or threats to either one. But there is a provision that covers threats to mental health.

Vancouver Police Officer Eric McCaleb works at Eden's school and neighboring Evergreen High School.

He couldn't talk about the ongoing investigation into Eden's death but deals with bullying cases daily.

"We actually have cyber-bullying in Washington," he said. "What cyber-bullying is – any electronic communication, whether it's Facebook, text messaging, instant messaging."

But he said even then, unless the threats involve bodily harm or lewd acts, bullying cases can be hard to prosecute.

McCaleb said he's been involved in prosecuting about five cases of bullying harassment this school year.

Eden Wormer's family is sharing with police the names of girls they say bullied her.

Her family is hoping investigators examine Eden's cell phone and computer records for evidence of harassment.