The tragic suicide of a Texas teen late last year left one family with few answers and even less justice until this week when authorities arrested and indicted two suspects in connection with the cyber-bullying of their daughter.
On Thursday, Texas City police and U.S. Marshals arrested Galveston residents Andres Arturo Villagomez, 21, and Karinthya Sanchez Romero, 22, regarding the harassment that allegedly lead to the suicide of 18-year-old Brandy Vela.
The Texas City High School senior “tragically committed suicide after enduring several months of relentless cyber-bullying, stalking, and harassment,” said Texas City police in a press release, noting that detectives on this case since Vela’s November 29 suicide worked tirelessly to identify the suspects behind the harassment.
Vela’s family attributed her suicide to the onslaught of long-term bullying. Raul Vela, the victim’s father, told KHOU, his daughter cried out for help from bullies who tormented her. The cyber-bullying reportedly included abusive text messages about her weight. Vela said the harassment started when someone began posting a photo of her online, “continually posting nasty things about her,” he added. “Set up an account saying she was actually soliciting sex.”
In December, the family told KPRC they reported the situation to the school district and to multiple Galveston County law enforcement agencies repeatedly. At the time of her death, Vela, despondent and distraught, shot herself in front of her family. Before taking her life, she texted them: “I love you so much just remember that please and I’m so sorry for everything.”
Also Thursday, the Galveston County grand jury heard the case, charging Villagomez, who was Vela’s ex-boyfriend, with unlawful disclosure or promotion of intimate visual material for intentionally publishing nude photographs of the victim to “cause her to be embarrassed and tormented,” according to the Houston Chronicle. The indictment accused Romero, who is Villagomez’s current girlfriend, of threatening “to inflict bodily harm on Brandy Vela, making repeated telephone communications anonymously … in a manner reasonably likely to harass, annoy, alarm, abuse, torment, embarrass, or offend.”
Authorities booked Villagomez into the Galveston County jail on a $2,500 bond. If convicted, he could face a maximum of one year in jail and a fine up to $4,000. They charged Romero with stalking and online impersonation. Each count carries a $10,000 bond. Both are third degree felonies. She could be looking at 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for each charge if found guilty.
Suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 10 and 14, and the second leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24, according to 2015 statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Boys are more likely than girls to die from suicide. The CDC found that in suicides from the 10 to 24 year old age range, 81% of the deaths were males and 19% were females. Also, girls are more likely to report suicide attempts than boys.
State Senator Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) filed Senate Bill 179, also known as David’s Law, in the 2017 Texas legislative session. This proposed anti-cyberbullying bill is named for David Molak, a 16-year-old San Antonio teenager who committed suicide in January 2016 after months of brutal online harassment. Breitbart Texas reported “David’s Law” would mandate school districts create cyberbullying policies, develop systems to anonymously report incidents, and allow law enforcement the means to unmask these anonymous online perpetrators. Senators Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) and Larry Taylor (R-Friendswood) co-authored. Representative Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio) wrote companion House Bill 306.
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