The prosecuting attorney said the teenage girl has been charged so “others are on notice” that reckless behavior on social media is not acceptable.
An 11-year-old Michigan boy hung himself hours after his 13-year-old girlfriend allegedly “hoaxed” him with news of her own death, a local prosecutor told BuzzFeed News, revealing new details about the social media prank that led to the boy’s death.
Tysen Benz died in a hospital Tuesday after he tried to end his life on March 14. His mother, Katrina Goss, publicly alleged that her son's suicide was a response to his girlfriend faking her own death on social media.
In an interview with BuzzFeed News on Friday, Marquette County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Wiese said he “doesn't disagree” with Goss's allegations.
Wiese said that the teenage girl allegedly sent Benz a text message faking her own death. The “hoax” occurred “a couple of hours before” Benz attempted to kill himself, according to Wiese.
“I can speculate that this was apparently upsetting to Tysen,” Wiese said.
Police found Benz unresponsive at home and transported him to a hospital where he died of his injuries days later.
“I don't know how it impacted him,” Wiese said. “The logical assumption is that it impacted him.”
Goss, the boy's mother, told BuzzFeed News that she believed the girl was “solely responsible for his suicide death.”
The teenage girl, who has not been identified because of her juvenile status, was charged with maliciously using a computer or telecommunications service to commit a crime. Under Michigan state law, making a false report of a death through a telecommunication device is a misdemeanor with a six-month sentence. Using a computer to commit a crime carries a maximum penalty of one year in jail.
Benz, a student at Bothwell Middle School, began secretly dating the 13-year-old girl after he bought a cell phone without his mother's knowledge, Goss said.
“He was the happiest, most joyous child until he met her,” Goss told BuzzFeed News. “She was mean to him, controlled him, and took advantage of him, even after I repeatedly told her to leave him alone.”
Goss said that their relationship went on for about five to six months, but that she was “100% against it” due to their age difference.
Avery Mitchell, who was friends with Benz and the teenage girl, told BuzzFeed News that the girl was playing a prank to see if Benz “really loved her and he took it the wrong way.”
“She didn't mean to hurt him [because] they loved each other,” Mitchell said through Facebook messages.
Prosecuting Attorney Wiese said that the 13-year-old girl was not being charged in order to be held responsible for Benz’s death, but rather for “making reckless comments” on social media and for “irresponsible” behavior.
“We're talking about 13-year-old and 11-year-old children,” Wiese said. “I don't believe they realized the gravity of what they were doing. The 13-year-old needs to understand that this [behavior] is not appropriate.”
Responding to people who have criticized the decision to charge the teen over Benz's suicide, Wiese said that she was charged so “others are on notice” that “this terrible, tragic thing can happen when you're reckless with social media.”
“What happens in the digital and social media world also impacts the actual world we live in,” Wiese said. “Reckless comments that rise to the level of criminal behavior need to be put out there so there's accountability.”
He also advised parents to talk to their children about engaging with social media. “It's a private world they enter and parents don't know what's going on,” he said.