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A Boy the Bullies Love to Beat Up, Repeatedly


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A Boy the Bullies Love to Beat Up, Repeatedly

By DAN BARRY, The New York Times

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All lank and bone, the boy stands at the corner with his younger sister, waiting for the yellow bus that takes them to their respective schools. He is Billy Wolfe, high school sophomore, struggling.

Moments earlier he left the sanctuary that is his home, passing those framed photographs of himself as a carefree child, back when he was 5. And now he is at the bus stop, wearing a baseball cap, vulnerable at 15.

A car the color of a school bus pulls up with a boy who tells his brother beside him that he?s going to beat up Billy Wolfe. While one records the assault with a cellphone camera, the other walks up to the oblivious Billy and punches him hard enough to leave a fist-size welt on his forehead.

The video shows Billy staggering, then dropping his book bag to fight back, lanky arms flailing. But the screams of his sister stop things cold.

The aggressor heads to school, to show friends the video of his Billy moment, while Billy heads home, again. It?s not yet 8 in the morning.

Bullying is everywhere, including here in Fayetteville, a city of 60,000 with one of the country?s better school systems. A decade ago a Fayetteville student was mercilessly harassed and beaten for being gay. After a complaint was filed with the Office of Civil Rights, the district adopted procedures to promote tolerance and respect ? none of which seems to have been of much comfort to Billy Wolfe.

It remains unclear why Billy became a target at age 12; schoolyard anthropology can be so nuanced. Maybe because he was so tall, or wore glasses then, or has a learning disability that affects his reading comprehension. Or maybe some kids were just bored. Or angry.

Whatever the reason, addressing the bullying of Billy has become a second job for his parents: Curt, a senior data analyst, and Penney, the owner of an office-supply company. They have binders of school records and police reports, along with photos documenting the bruises and black eyes. They are well known to school officials, perhaps even too well known, but they make no apologies for being vigilant. They also reject any suggestion that they should move out of the district because of this.

The many incidents seem to blur together into one protracted assault. When Billy attaches a bully?s name to one beating, his mother corrects him. ?That was Benny, sweetie,? she says. ?That was in the eighth grade.?

It began years ago when a boy called the house and asked Billy if he wanted to buy a certain sex toy, heh-heh. Billy told his mother, who informed the boy?s mother. The next day the boy showed Billy a list with the names of 20 boys who wanted to beat Billy up.

Ms. Wolfe says she and her husband knew it was coming. She says they tried to warn school officials ? and then bam: the prank caller beat up Billy in the bathroom of McNair Middle School.

Not long after, a boy on the school bus pummeled Billy, but somehow Billy was the one suspended, despite his pleas that the bus?s security camera would prove his innocence. Days later, Ms. Wolfe recalls, the principal summoned her, presented a box of tissues, and played the bus video that clearly showed Billy was telling the truth.

Things got worse. At Woodland Junior High School, some boys in a wood shop class goaded a bigger boy into believing that Billy had been talking trash about his mother. Billy, busy building a miniature house, didn?t see it coming: the boy hit him so hard in the left cheek that he briefly lost consciousness.

Ms. Wolfe remembers the family dentist sewing up the inside of Billy?s cheek, and a school official refusing to call the police, saying it looked like Billy got what he deserved. Most of all, she remembers the sight of her son.

?He kept spitting blood out,? she says, the memory strong enough still to break her voice.

By now Billy feared school. Sometimes he was doubled over with stress, asking his parents why. But it kept on coming.

In ninth grade, a couple of the same boys started a Facebook page called ?Every One That Hates Billy Wolfe.? It featured a photograph of Billy?s face superimposed over a likeness of Peter Pan, and provided this description of its purpose: ?There is no reason anyone should like billy he?s a little bitch. And a homosexual that NO ONE LIKES.?


According to Alan Wilbourn, a spokesman for the school district, the principal notified the parents of the students involved after Ms. Wolfe complained, and the parents ? whom he described as ?horrified? ? took steps to have the page taken down.

Not long afterward, a student in Spanish class punched Billy so hard that when he came to, his braces were caught on the inside of his cheek.

So who is Billy Wolfe? Now 16, he likes the outdoors, racquetball and girls. For whatever reason ? bullying, learning disabilities or lack of interest ? his grades are poor. Some teachers think he?s a sweet kid; others think he is easily distracted, occasionally disruptive, even disrespectful. He has received a few suspensions for misbehavior, though none for bullying.

Judging by school records, at least one official seems to think Billy contributes to the trouble that swirls around him. For example, Billy and the boy who punched him at the bus stop had exchanged words and shoves a few days earlier.

But Ms. Wolfe scoffs at the notion that her son causes or deserves the beatings he receives. She wonders why Billy is the only one getting beaten up, and why school officials are so reluctant to punish bullies and report assaults to the police.

Mr. Wilbourn said federal law protected the privacy of students, so parents of a bullied child should not assume that disciplinary action had not been taken. He also said it was left to the discretion of staff members to determine if an incident required police notification.

The Wolfes are not satisfied. This month they sued one of the bullies ?and other John Does,? and are considering another lawsuit against the Fayetteville School District. Their lawyer, D. Westbrook Doss Jr., said there was neither glee nor much monetary reward in suing teenagers, but a point had to be made: schoolchildren deserve to feel safe.

Billy Wolfe, for example, deserves to open his American history textbook and not find anti-Billy sentiments scrawled across the pages. But there they were, words so hurtful and foul.

The boy did what he could. ?I?d put white-out on them,? he says. ?And if the page didn?t have stuff to learn, I?d rip it out.?

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

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One can't help but wonder why the parents have allowed it to go on so long.

Saying, "We refuse to move to another school district," makes a point, but at the expense of the child.

Why not report this to the police themselves? They don't have to wait for the school to do it.

Why not sue the school the very first time they don't act? Or the second? Or the third?

Same question about the parents of the kids who are beating the boy. Sue for medical expenses and costs, at least, and think about punitive damages.

I don't see how any responsible parent can let their child be repeatedly hammered and not take steps that result in it getting absolutely, permanently stopped.

And if this results in another school shooting in Fayetteville, is everyone going to be shocked?

I'm sad too, but even more angry.


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One can't help but wonder why the parents have allowed it to go on so long.

Exactly, Cole. Billy's parents are culpable since they've done nothing about taking this to the police and the courts for so long. It's sad to think this might be the reason, but Billy's mom owns a BUSINESS, an office-supply company. Fayetteville is a small city and her business might have been impacted if they'd brought the law and the courts into this problem.

Colin :icon_geek:

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Jesus, that's depressing. You figure the next story will be Billy getting a gun and shooting the crap out of the school.

Are these school officials so stupid they don't understand how stupid they're acting? I hope the family sues the hell out of them.

What they really should do is put him in private school, and get him to take karate lessons every day. And I'd also get him a shrink, and make the school pay for it.

God, stories like this make me wanna puke. I got bullied quite a bit in middle school, but I eventually fought back enough that they left me alone. You get a good punch or two in on the bully (even if he hits you ten times), they'll stop.

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There is one thing that will drive me to have violent thoughts, and even actions, and that is bullying. Mind you, my anger gets stronger the more helpless the victim may be. Cruelty to animals, who (which?) cannot even speak out, rates the greatest level of anger. Likewise with kids, and particularly those with other challenges and handicaps.

In my mind, I know that there is something severely wrong with the psyches of the bullies. There is absolutely no logical reason to beat on someone who is virtually helpless. The only reason to behave that way is to elevate their own status, in some twisted perverse universe they live in. Sadly, there may be an instinctive genetic component to it, just like with pack animals and herd animals. The weakest are always being attacked by others in the group. As long as we continue to believe we are beyond being animals, and turn a blind eye to our own animalistic behaviours, we will continue to destroy ourselves, at least, our own delicate veneer of civilisation.

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In my mind, I know that there is something severely wrong with the psyches of the bullies. There is absolutely no logical reason to beat on someone who is virtually helpless.

There was another kid in Jr. High phys ed who got bullied more than me: a quiet, slightly-older kid who was a little mentally challenged, but functioning enough that he could go to regular school. (I was the opposite: a little shrimpy wise-ass kid who was too smart for his own good.)

I remember vividly one day an incident where even the Coach bullied the slightly-retarded kid, shaking him violently and screaming in his face for doing something clumsy and awkward. I regret to this day not walking up to the coach and saying, "you fucking asshole! Why don't you treat this kid like a goddamned human being!" I was a cowardly jerk for not speaking out, but nobody else in class did either. I'm still ashamed for staying silent.

Because of being haunted by that incident, when I have seen things like this go on since then, even if I'm a stranger, I do stop and speak out, especially if I think somebody's bullying somebody else. I actually broke up a teenage fight on a sidewalk in my neighborhood a couple of years ago. One of them told me to "mind my own fucking business," and I flipped out my cellphone and said "I'm hitting 911 if you kids aren't out of here in five seconds." They stopped and ran.

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