Family and friends of a Canadian teen who hanged herself after she was allegedly raped and then bullied for months were urged at her funeral on Saturday to celebrate her life and draw attention to the circumstances that led to her death.
More than 100 people filled St Mark’s Anglican Church to pay their last respects to 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons, whose family said she was photographed while being sexually assaulted in 2011 by four boys and bullied after the photograph went viral online.
The teen’s death on April 7 has been compared with two other episodes recently in the news — the death of a 15-year-old California girl who took her own life after she was allegedly sexually abused and an explicit photograph of the assault circulated online among her classmates, and a case in Ohio in which two high-school football players were convicted of raping a drunken 16-year-old girl, an incident recorded on cellphones and gossiped about online.
Police had concluded there were no grounds to charge anyone in the Canadian teen’s case after an initial year-long investigation — a finding that raised a public outcry after Parsons’ family shared her story online. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police in Halifax said on Friday that it would reopen the investigation after receiving new information about the case from a source who is willing to work with them.
The Reverend John Morrell said in his eulogy that social media contributed to Rehtaeh’s depression and death, but said it also allowed her family to share her tragic story around the world.
“It is a time of celebration and thanksgiving of her short life amongst us,” Morrell said. “However, given the worldwide attention to the events leading up to this tragedy, it is appropriate to focus on what happens tomorrow, and the day after, and weeks and years to come. How can our society provide a safe haven for young girls? Why do young men feel that young girls are but objects for their sexual fantasies and pleasure? Why do teenagers avoid seeking help when they are depressed and suicidal?”
The sound of church bells echoed through the busy street in Halifax, Nova Scotia, over the sound of a bagpiper as a mix of mourners from teenagers to politicians filed into the church.
After the service, Angella Parsons, Rehtaeh’s cousin, said that since her death, the support from the community has been overwhelming, calling it “a true testament to the beauty of humanity.”
“We are eternally grateful for the large gathering of friends and strangers that Rae’s story has touched,” Parsons said. “The family has been recipients of random acts of kindness from people who we don’t even know.”