Delaware County prosecutors expect to file charges in the case of 12-year-old Bailey O’Neill, a sixth grader at Darby Township School who died Sunday following a schoolyard fight.
“Charges will be filed at the completion of the investigation,” spokeswoman Emily Harris of the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office said today.
“This is an ongoing active criminal investigation that includes reviewing all aspects of the incidents that occurred January 10, as well as investigating the cause of his injury and death.”
O’Neill was punched two to three times in the face and didn’t fight back, according to prosecutors.
He began suffering from seizures and was placed in a medically-induced coma. O’Neill died just one day after his 12th birthday.
“Now, with the unfortunate death, we’re going to include results of the autopsy, so charges will based on the results of that investigation,” Harris said. She expects to have those results by the end of the month.
The harrowing tale brought back painful memories for Michigan man Kevin Epling, whose son Matt took his own life in 2010 shortly after being hazed by a group of upperclassmen. Epling has since become a full time bullying prevention advocate.
“I feel very sad for the parents,” he said. “I know what it’s like to lose a child, and Bailey was two years younger than Matt. Being out there and talking about this for 10 years and seeing that this is still happening, it’s heartbreaking.”
O’Neill’s family members said he was bullied at school, but prosecutors haven’t yet made that determination. “It’s currently being investigating whether bullying was involved,” Harris said.
According to Epling, just one fight can be considered bullying. “They do need to look at the case objectively to find out what happened,” he said.
“But a lot of times, bullying doesn’t have to repeat over an extended period of time. It can be one event really targeted at an individual.”
‘Revolutionary’ phase in anti-bullying efforts
Epling said that, though bullying has gotten worse due to the accessibility and anonymity afforded by the internet, efforts to address the issue have grown stronger.
“We’re in a revolutionary phase of anti-bullying right now,” he said. “Ten years ago, there wasn’t anybody talking about this. Now everyone is talking about it.”
“It’s a positive thing because with everyone talking, there’s nowhere for schools to hide and say they don’t know it’s an issue – and is an issue for every school.”
Epling has witnessed a “cultural shift” during his decade as an advocate.
“I’ve seen a change in 10 years and I would love to have seen it happen faster,” he said. “The more people talk, the more people get involved, the sooner we can get to reducing a lot of the problems in our schools. … People need to not tolerate ‘kids being kids’ and ‘boys being boys,’ but throw out that mindset and start over.”
No rush to judgment
Epling said he doesn’t want officials to rush to judgment in O’Neill’s case, but he believes repercussions are necessary in order to send a message to students.
“It’s a very difficult issue as a parent who’s also lost a child – our son’s attackers got a year of probation,” he said.
“If there is something that comes of this that hopefully would make other students in Pennsylvania and in other states really start to think about their own personal actions and what they do to other students, that becomes a positive thing.”