Over a series of days last fall, a Napa teenager reported receiving threatening, anti-Semitic text and phone messages, terrifying the boy’s family that feared for its safety.
“From our perspective, it was a terrifying few days,” the mother said, recalling the events of last September.
These messages were violent and vile, she said. Her family had no idea who sent the messages or if any of the threats would be carried out, said the soft-spoken woman, who is not named to protect her son’s privacy.
On the advice of police, the parents considered pulling their son from Napa High School, but their son insisted on returning to school. He wasn’t nearly as afraid as his mother, she said.
The mother said her grandfather’s family, Algerian Jews, were slaughtered during World War II. The threatening messages were “like poking a hot iron on soft flesh that hasn’t healed very well,” she said.
Napa police identified three teenage students at Justin-Siena High School as the perpetrators, police Lt. Debbie Peecook confirmed Thursday. The matter was then forwarded to the district attorney’s office, she said.
“I was so relieved,” the mother of the Napa High student said of the police department’s quick work.
District Attorney Gary Lieberstein and others in the criminal justice system said this week that they cannot comment on this case, calling it a juvenile matter in which confidentiality is paramount.
Since September, the family of the boy who had been allegedly targeted has watched the case wind through the legal system.
Two of the suspects ended up in peer court, a diversion program of the Napa County Probation Department, the mother said. The program is for first-time juvenile offenders who admit guilt, with teens acting as jurors, lawyers and bailiffs and a real Napa County Superior Court judge presiding.
The three boys, who are not identified because they are juveniles, did apologize to her family in a meeting coordinated by Justin-Siena officials, the mother of the Napa High student said this week.
On Friday, Robert Jordan, president and chief executive officer at Justin-Siena, said he will not comment on these students “out of respect for their privacy and all the parties involved in this sad situation.”
While she is not sure what happens next, the Napa High student’s mother said she and her family want to focus on the future, including preventing cyberbullying via social media, texting and other means.
“This is an issue of our time,” she said. “I don’t believe that these boys would have ever done this to our face,” she said, regarding the text and phone messages. “I don’t think they saw us as real, as a real family, real people.”
While a scheduled session of peer court for one of the accused teens was canceled this week, the mother said she strongly supports the diversion program, saying it is an opportunity for a “teachable moment” for the teens and residents.
To the best of her knowledge, one of her son’s tormentors has completed peer court while another suspect is going through the juvenile court system, she said.
The teens assigned to peer court, she understands, may be required to serve as jurors in future peer court proceedings.
“I want these boys to learn from this. I want them to be the ones advocating for non-violent communication and standing up against hateful speech,” she said.
“It’s a very hard lesson, and I’m sure deeply painful to them and their families,” she said. “And my heart goes out to their families.”
“I’m sure that they are good boys and that their higher selves would have never done this,” she said. “I forgive them but I do not condone what they have done.”
“Regardless of their intentions, the power of words is very strong,” the mother said. “I think in Napa ... we want to be a tolerant community, where people of different identities can all feel comfortable.”
In November, Nancy Appel, associate director at the Anti-Defamation League’s San Francisco office, led a presentation on cyberbullying and other issues at Congregation Beth Sholom in Napa after the incident. About 45 people came for the discussion, Appel said Thursday.
Bullying has always become a problem, Appel said, but it has become so much worse with social media, the Internet and texting.
“Kids can bully each other 24/7,” she said.
Barbara Nemko, superintendent, Napa County Office of Education, on Friday said she was aware of last fall’s incident.
Generally speaking, Nemko said bullying is a constant concern. “It’s always horrifying,” she said. “Bullying is horrible.”
Her office will have a workshop to discuss bullying issues at 6 p.m. on March 15 at the Napa County Office of Education.
Like Appel and others, Nemko said the era of instant communication makes bullying even worse. “The schools are trying to take every preventative measure that they can,” Nemko said.
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