Bullied best friends take lives during sleepover

Lisa Neff, Staff writer

Best friends Haylee Ann Marie Fentress and Paige Lee Moravetz took some secrets when they took their lives.

The eighth-graders at Marshall Middle School hung themselves on April 16 in a home in rural Lynd, Minn., in the southwestern part of the state. The Lyon County Sheriff’s Department said Paige was on a sleepover at Haylee’s house.

The double suicide prompted a rumor of a planned pact, which Marshall Public Schools superintendent Klint W. Willert said was unfounded. “There is no evidence of any kind of a suicide pact,” he told an ABC affiliate.

The suicides also brought out assertions that the 14-year-old girls had been bullied by other teenagers. Haylee, in a Facebook post, said kids were cruel. She told family members that other students made fun of her weight and red hair and she was struggling to fit in after moving to Minnesota from Indiana about a year ago.

Appearing on NBC’s “Today” on April 14, relatives of the two girls suggested they might have been more than friends. Haylee hyphenated her last name on Facebook to include Paige’s last name, and Haylee was expelled from school for defending Paige in a fight.

“I’m so nervous and I just want to get it over with … I love you, Paige,” Haylee posted on her friend’s Facebook page shortly before their deaths.

Haylee’s mother and older sister, in a joint statement, said, “We need to stop pretending this isn’t happening or that it is just a cry for attention because obviously it is not. This needs to be talked about, and we need to try to prevent this by teaching kids in school, community and at home. They need to know that they are not alone. It shouldn’t take more tragedies to realize this.”

Both girls suffered depression, but their mothers have said they saw no indication the girls planned to take their lives.

“There was nothing,” Paige’s mom, Tricia Behnke, said on a broadcast of NBC’s “Today.”

A service for Haylee took place April 23 in Highland, Ind.

“Haylee was a compassionate, loving, big-hearted person who will live on through her family,” her family wrote in her obituary.

Paige was buried April 20 in Wilno, Minn.

“Her enjoyments in life included playing hockey, snowmobiling, fishing (especially ice fishing), helping out and spending time on the farm, camping and tubing on Lake Shaokotan, camping and knee boarding on Lake Herman, playing music, going to concerts, playing with her dog Daisy, spending time with cousins and her brother Jake, spending time with friends and traveling,” Paige’s family wrote in her obituary.

Responding to the deaths, the school district provided counseling for students and hosted a forum April 19 for parents to learn how to help a children cope with their grief.

“Marshall Public Schools remain concerned about the safety and well-being of our students and staff at this difficult time,” Willert said.

The district also issued a warning to parents and teachers that publicity surrounding suicide can lead to additional suicides or attempts. The district, in a statement released April 20, cited a World Health Organization conclusion that “some forms of non-fictional newspaper and television coverage of suicide are associated with a statistically significant excess of suicide; the impact appears to be strongest among young people. Repeated and continual coverage of suicide tends to induce and promote suicidal preoccupations, particularly among adolescents and young adults.”