Cyberbullying, social media cited as part of investigation into Virginia teen's death

By Samantha Smith - Digital Content Producer

Courtesy of WVVA

TAZEWELL COUNTY, Va. - Authorities are looking at cyberbullying in the investigation of a Virginia high school student's death, according to the Tazewell County Sheriff's Office. 

Richlands High School sophomore Kayla Hodges died on Monday, according to Kimberly Ringstaff, the school's principal. 

Students gathered in front of the school on Tuesday to mourn Hodges. Hodges death happened six months to the day after the death of 15-year-old Justin Dye, who took his own life. Dye was also a sophomore student at the high school, according to WVVA.

Evidence that authorities have been able to uncover so far has led them to incidents of cyberbullying in Hodges' past. 

Authorities say that a fake social media account posing as Hodges as well as other cyberbullying incidents happened, and were possibly done by people in different locations throughout the country. Deputies say that if they are able to prove that these online acts played a part in her death, then the perpetrators will be prosecuted, regardless of where they live. 

All aspects of Hodges' life, including "mental and physical problems, home situations and past incidents," will be looked at in this investigation, according to the Sheriff's Office. 

Tazewell County Sheriff Hieatt noted in the release sent out about Hodges' death that this amount of information about an open investigation is not typically released, but he received several calls from concerned citizens. 

Below is the full statement from Sheriff Hieatt: 

"As most of you know we are currently investigating a case involving the death of a young woman from Bandy. My department and I are continuing to pray for her family during this difficult time. Normally I do not release information about an open investigation, especially within the first few days, but I have received numerous calls of concern from citizens in the community about the circumstances surrounding this tragedy.

I sincerely ask the public not to make any rushed judgments as to the events that led up to her death. I have a team of deputies and detectives who are diligently working on the collection and preservation of evidence and are conducting interviews with friends and family. They have also been working with Richlands High School and the Richlands Police Department on gathering information.

However, what we have collected so far has opened a door into incidents of online bullying that may have been occurring with people located in various parts of the United States. This cyber-bullying included a fake social media account pretending to be her, among other things that were happening online. Regardless of where in the United States these people may live, if we are able to prove that these on-line acts had any part in her death then they will be prosecuted. As with cases like this -all other aspects of this young girl’s life will be examined as part of this investigation including mental and physical problems, home situations, and past incidents that might have been a part of her death.

Children go through many challenges’ in today’s world. They are exposed to so many things that have a negative impact on their lives. I have decided to release this information in order to stop all of the speculation and conjecture regarding this incident. Social Media is a powerful tool and can easily sway a community with false or misleading information.

As the investigation continues we ask that if anyone has any information on anything that had been occurring in the life of Kayla Hodges to please contact Sergeant Mike Hall at 276-988-1157. Thank you for your time and please remember to pray for all the children in our county that God is with them in the things they battle each day at home, school, and in the community."

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