Local family talks about new online harassment statistics

Local News

Rachel Burns says her younger brother Luke was a lot of things, the smart jock in middle school top among them.

“He was every personality put into one person, that’s always how I thought of him,” she told News 8.

Rachel says that changed when he signed up for social media accounts like Twitter, Facebook, and Snapchat.

“He had started getting more depressed and you could definitely tell,” Rachel said.

Rachel and her mom Fran say it wasn’t a secret why that was.

“This girl in his grade was talking to him on Snapchat,” Rachel told us, “She was calling him names and stuff like that.”

“It just seemed like he emotionally couldn’t handle the things that the person was sending to him,” Fran Burns said.

They knew about the messaging, but did not know what else was haunting him. Last fall, he took his own life. He was eleven years old.

The Burns’ say it’s hard to put into words how they felt.

“I knew I was alive but I just felt dead. He was the reason I was alive,” Rachel said

Now, a Pew Research study says Luke isn’t alone. Four in ten Americans face online harassment, social media being one of the places it happens most.

The Mental Health Association of Rochester relies on many strategies to prevent suicide. Recently they’ve taken to Facebook.

“Every Wednesday, we put up a different subject,” said the Director of Community Relations Melanie Funchess. We’ve talked about this a few times; how you interact on the online space.”

“Just like the real world, think before you type,” Funchess continued. “Is it thoughtful? Is it kind? Is it true? Does it move the conversation forward?”

For the Burns family, it’s too late to save Luke, but they hope the phrase “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can hurt,” sinks in.

“I want them to actually know that the smallest thing can make the biggest difference,” Rachel said.

Fran has been outspoken since Luke’s death and about how hurtful words can be. She was able to talk to kids in Luke’s class about bullying and suicide.

Visit http://www.pewinternet.org/2017/07/11/online-harassment-2017/ for the Pew Research Study.

Visit https://www.mharochester.org/  for the Mental Health Association.

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