On the afternoon of June 5, Tovonna Holton, a freshman at Wiregrass Ranch High School in Wesley Chapel, Fla., took a gun from her mother's purse, locked herself in the bathroom, and shot herself.
By the time Tovonna's mother, Levon Holton-Teamer, was able to get inside the bathroom, her daughter, 15, was unresponsive and lying in a pool of her own blood. Hours later, the girl would die.
According to Holton-Teamer, her daughter decided to take her own life after learning that a video of her showering had been taken by her friends without her consent and shared to Snapchat, where it was being passed around by other teens—allegedly including, The Daily Beast reported, Holton's ex-boyfriend, with whom she'd broken up with just hours before. According to Christian Coyle-Watts, a friend of Holton's, the ex downloaded the video from Snapchat and uploaded it to Twitter as an alleged act of revenge.
“Tovonna knew [her friend] posted the video, but Tovonna’s boyfriend posted it, trying to expose her in a derogatory way,” Coyle-Watts told The Daily Beast. “He did it just because he knew he could, and it would hurt her feelings.”
In a interview with WFLA News, Holton-Teamer recalled that her daughter had mentioned being worried about a nude photo that she thought might have been taken of her.
“Tovonna would say, ‘Mommy, I owe them; I owe them’. I said, ‘What do you mean you owe them," Holton-Teamer told the station. "I couldn’t understand what was wrong."
It wasn't until Tovonna's aunt, Angel Scott, logged on to Facebook and searched for her niece's name that the family would come to understand just what had happened. People familiar with the video (including some who had seen it) began messaging Scott to explain how the leak wasn't just photos.
"Everybody was out there talking about her and calling her names and they said it went up on social media, Snapchat," Scott said. "I’d never heard of that before about 3 something that afternoon."
Holton's tragic story is part of a troubling recent trend of teens using apps like Snapchat, which markets itself on the idea that its content disappears within seconds, to harass one another with the assumption that there will be no evidence of their actions left behind. The compulsion to share sensitive content of another person isn't new. But the new way that smartphones and social media give us the ability to broadcast that content can facilitate bad behavior being taken to horrible—and in this case, deadly—conclusions.
Take, for instance, Marina Lonina, the 18-year-old girl from Ohio who livestreamed her friend's rape to Periscope. During her trial, Lonina claimed that she streamed the attack in hopes that someone would see what was happening and call for help. She didn't think to call the cops, her attorney said, because she "got caught up in the likes" that people were attaching to the stream.
Wiregrass Ranch High School held counseling sessions for the school's student body earlier this week and quickly launched an internal investigation into the claims of cyberbullying. The case has now been turned over to local police authorities and Scott says that her niece deserves justice.
“I want them to pay, to feel what we feeling, even if their child is convicted or in trouble they can go visit their child,” she said.