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Two girls arrested in Florida online bullying death

Rebecca Ann Sedwick is pictured in this undated handout photo courtesy of Polk County Sheriff's Office in Florida. REUTERS/Polk County Sheri
Rebecca Ann Sedwick is pictured in this undated handout photo courtesy of Polk County Sheriff's Office in Florida. REUTERS/Polk County Sheri

(Reuters) - Two girls, ages 12 and 14, have been charged with felony aggravated stalking for what a Florida sheriff described on Tuesday as "maliciously harassing" a 12-year-old girl who jumped from a tower to her death.

The middle school students appeared before a judge on Tuesday and the 14-year-old was remanded into custody pending further juvenile proceedings, a Polk County Sheriff's spokeswoman said.

The 12-year-old defendant was released to her parents' custody "due to her remorse and cooperation" but is on home detention and not allowed to attend school, the spokeswoman said.

The two "repeatedly and maliciously harassed" Rebecca Ann Sedwick, who became so despondent that she climbed a tower at an abandoned cement plant and jumped to her death, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd told a news conference in Winter Haven, Florida. She disappeared on September 9 and her body was found the next day.

Sedwick was targeted because she had dated the 14-year-old defendant's boyfriend, the sheriff said.

Several more girls are believed to have been involved in cyberbullying, but investigators are having difficulty obtaining information about their online accounts, Judd said.

"These are the two primary harassers. They are the two stalkers. They are the two bulliers," he said.

The two called Sedwick names, intimidated her, threatened to beat her up and engaged in at least one physical fight with her, the sheriff said.

They sent online messages via Facebook and other sites calling Sedwick "ugly" and telling her: "You should drink bleach and die," "Nobody likes you," and "You should go kill yourself," Judd said.

He said their treatment of Sedwick was "a contributing factor" in her suicide and the stalking was a felony charge because of Sedwick's age.

Neither defendant had any previous arrests, Judd said. It will be up to the state attorney's office to decide how to proceed, he added.

The sheriff said his office decided to go ahead with the arrests after the 14-year-old posted an online message on Saturday night saying: "Yes, I bullied Rebecca and she killed herself but IDGAF," an acronym meaning "I don't give a (expletive)."

He said he was concerned that the girl's parents were still allowing her to use electronic devices and that "She's right back online doing the same kind of things again."

(Reporting by Jane Sutton; Editing by Alden Bentley, Gunna Dickson and Cynthia Osterman)

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