Hope Sterling Witsell (May 24, 1996 - September 12, 2009) had grown used to kids calling her names. Each day, as the 7th grader from Beth Shields Middle School walked the halls, she heard slurs like “whore” and “slut” shouted her way. Her small number of friends escorted Hope down the halls, acting as a human shield, trying to protect her.
A few weeks earlier, Hope made a really bad decision: she took a nude photo of herself on a cell phone and sent it to a guy she liked. That bad decision would not be her last. Within a day’s time, the photo of Hope made its way from cell phone to cell phone, until hundreds of students at her middle school and even the local high school had a digital copy. Now Hope was a marked girl. The only thing Hope had in her favor was the upcoming end of the school year. Summer proved to be a short reprieve from the taunting, but when Hope returned to school for her 8th grade year, teachers observed cuts on her legs. A faculty member at her school made Hope sign a No-Harm contract.
It was a promise Hope was unwilling to keep.
On Saturday, September 12, 2009, Hope helped her father mow the lawn. They cooked a special seafood dinner together as a family. Then Hope disappeared to her room upstairs. Her parents stayed downstairs and watched TV.
Around 11pm, Hope’s mom came to her bedroom to check on her. Donna Witsell found her daughter standing a few feet away from the door, her head lowered, with her hair hanging over her face. When her eyes adjusted to the lighting, she noticed a pink scarf tied around the canopy of Hope’s queen-sized bed. The other end was wrapped around Hope’s neck.
An ambulance was called, but Hope was pronounced dead at the hospital. She was only 13 years old.