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Rally against bullying held in WHS student’s memory


The word was love. The color was blue, a symbol of peace and serenity.

About 250 parents, students and other citizens clothed in every hue of blue gathered Monday in front of Watertown High School to protest against the emotional destruction caused by bullies.

Last week, rally organizer and Jefferson Community College student Patrick M. Fleming created a Facebook “event” calling for people to write “love” on their arms in memory of Erin K. Foley, a Watertown High senior who committed suicide last Tuesday. In Miss Foley’s obituary, her family said she had been a victim of bullying.

“We’re looking for a change,” Mr. Fleming said Monday. “It’s a small start, but it’s going to continue. The more people get on board, the better. We’re looking for a lifetime commitment.”

He had “love” freshly tattooed on his upper bicep to show his support for the movement.

Mr. Fleming said the rally was not against the school district’s administration. Rather, he felt students are the first line of defense against bullying. He is planning to organize another anti-bullying event this summer.

Students from Case Middle School were able to attend with parental permission. Even more students were expected to come to another rally after school at 2:30 p.m.

Many of the students were carrying posters exclaiming “Honk to stop bullying,” “Love is the movement” and “It isn’t big to make others feel small” to passing cars on Washington Street.

Bobbi Fleming said a group of parents threatened to sue her sons Cory and Patrick for urging students from the middle school to attend the rally during school hours.

“They said (Cory and Patrick) made their kids leave school,” she said. “They weren’t trying to do anything bad at all. They don’t want the spotlight taken off a good thing to turn it into people being defiant.”

Case Principal Terry L. Gonseth was unavailable for comment.

Seventh-grader Asia L. Nett Collier said she received permission from her mother to come to the rally. She said teachers and the principal should solve problems when they are reported.

“If the principal started doing something about it, then we won’t be fighting in the hallways and stuff,” she said. “If you tell people to let it go, then they will take it in their own hands.”

Parent Billi-Jo M. Lavancha said her daughter was bullied last year at the middle school.

“I watched her almost get jumped on their property,” she said. “Hopefully, this causes awareness for the students so they know how serious this is, and I want the school to make changes.”

Miss Foley’s father, Paul J. Foley, also hopes the rally helps.

“At home was her safety zone. I just know that she was having problems at school, especially gym class,” he said.

He does not like the word bully. Rather, he said his daughter’s self-esteem was worn down over the course of her high school career. Even though she was battling depression, she put on a happy face as a front when she was at home.

“You don’t really know where to go when a teen is depressed,” he said.

He is planning to join the eighth annual Mental Health Awareness Walk from the Dulles State Office Building to Thompson Park at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday.

Mr. Foley received a forwarded text message from his daughter forwarded from one of her friends with the word “goodbye” before Miss Foley’s body was found in the woods adjacent to Jefferson Community College. She was expecting to enroll there in the fall.

“Erin would have only had a couple more weeks before her whole world would have opened up to her,” Mr. Foley said. “I want these kids to know they’re not alone. They need to hang on.”

A few middle-schoolers used the rally to run to the stores across the street from the school and chat with friends until they were lectured about the negative impact bullying had for Miss Foley.

“Erin lost her life because no one cared,” said family friend Tasha M. Williams to the students. “I don’t want bullies here. If you’re bullying someone, you’re going to have to deal with me.”

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