Bullied to Death: A Story of Bullying, Social Media, and the Suicide of Sherokee Harriman by Judith A. Yates ~ 328 pages ~ published 4/10/18 by WildBlue Press
On September 5, 2015, in a public park in LaVergne, Tennessee, fourteen-year-old Sherokee Harriman drove a kitchen knife into her stomach as other teens watched in horror. Despite attempts to save her, the girl died, and the coroner ruled it a “suicide.” But was it? Or was it a crime perpetuated by other teens who had bullied her?
Sherokee’s short life and tragic death created a national media and social media frenzy much of it centered on sensationalism rather than the truth. Meanwhile in LaVergne, the community sought answers to questions about who, if anyone, should be held criminally responsible for “bullying.”
Award-winning author and criminologist Judith A. Yates peels back the layers of sensational news coverage surrounding a girl’s death, and in context with national interest in the phenomenon of internet bullying tries to answer the question of whether Sherokee Harriman was BULLIED TO DEATH.
What I Thought:
I am always excited to read a book that is set where I live. So when I was given a copy of Bullied to Death to review by the publisher, and saw that it took place about 15 minutes from me, I was immediately intrigued! I don’t generally read true crime, but I am a huge fan of the TV show Criminal Minds, so I figured this would be right up my alley.
The basic premise of the book is trying to determine whether someone can be led to suicide as a result of extreme and excessive bullying, and whether or not that should be punishable by law, as with a murder. The book begins with the story of what happened the day that Sherokee died. From the initial reading of these chapters, I was a bit confused why anyone would think this was anything other than a suicide. But, as the book delves deeper into Sherokee’s past, as well as the interactions she had with her classmates, I can see where some of the gray areas start to arise.
Overall, I felt that Sherokee did lead a sad and hard life. She was diagnosed with several mental issues, including bipolar disorder and PTSD. She had a very hard time following social cues, and tended to threaten her family with committing suicide in order to get her way or to receive love from them. She also had a problem with stealing things, since her family was not well off, and she wanted to have the “pretty” things that her classmates had. I believe “emotionally disturbed” was used to describe her at one point during the book.
At the same time, the reader is assured over and over that Sherokee was, at her core, a sweet and loving girl who loved to draw and do her friends’ makeup and hair. She was a typical teen, other than the fact that she was bullied and had a slew of mental issues that created a lot of turmoil in her life.
The term “bullicide” was mentioned, and it was a bit difficult to connect all of the dots. Yes, the girl at the park, Allie, started the initial interaction by shouting and cursing at Sherokee, saying all sorts of awful things. This, compounded with all of the bullying Sherokee was dealing with at school, was what prompted her to grab a kitchen knife and go back to the park to “teach them a lesson.” But does that constitute it being considered a homicide, suicide by bullying? One of Sherokee’s family members thought so:
I think it was homicide because [the teens] drove her to it. They pushed her to the point where she felt she had no option.
I don’t know if I am completely convinced. To me, it seems that Sherokee’s death, while extremely tragic, was indeed a suicide brought about by a combination of her various mental issues and her feelings of depression and “worthlessness”, triggered by the extreme bullying she endured that day at the park. Unfortunately, we will never know the truth, but we can all certainly learn something from a life that was ended far too soon.
I gave this book 3.5 STARS. It was well researched, and certainly pulled at the heartstrings. I did feel that there were parts where it dragged quite a bit (especially the parts that went into great detail about various mental illnesses), and the argument that it might not have been a simple suicide was a little shaky. Overall, it was a good book!
*I received a copy of this book directly from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Thank you so much to WildBlue Press for sending me a copy of this book!*
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Are you a fan of true crime books? Have you read Bullied to Death? What is your opinion on “bullicide”? Let me know down in the comments!
Love and happy reading,