SARATOGA, Calif. – A candlelight vigil was held for Audrie Pott, the 15-year-old Saratoga High sophomore who committed suicide days after being allegedly sexually assaulted during Labor’s Day weekend and pictures taken of her during the battery were texted to other students.
About a hundred family friends, classmates, supporters held candelight vigils at Saratoga High on April 19, 2013. They gave words of condolences and shared their common experiences of being bullied or their loved ones committing suicide after experiencing bullying. Together they’ve called for a stand against sexual-assault and any form of bullying.
Tucked away in a plush neighborhood with windy roads, Saratoga High School is famous for having alumni like Grammy-winning movie director Steven Speilberg and others. With 53 percent Asian students and 36 percent Caucasian students, the 1,300 student school is ranked academically among the top 10 percent of all high schools in California and located in the Silicon Valley suburb.
White banners that were hung on the quad stage were filled with remarks of condolences, revealing the sorrows and pains from friends and classmates. Organized by fellow classmate Albert Fang, the event requested that participants wear teal, Audrie’s favorite color and the official color of Sexual-Assault Awareness Month (SAAM).
Sarah Broughton, 15, who describes herself as a close friend of Audrie, told The Gospel Herald, “Audrie was really witty and funny…loved to sing, a big prankster…love being with her friends and family, very outgoing and approachable. She was just a great person to be around with.”
As soon as the sun set, candle lights were placed across the steps leading up the quad's center stage with a row of candles spelling out “Audrie” in capitalized letters. Those gathered held candles as they listened to heart-felt and emotional sharing.
“You always think it is going to happen to other people. You read about it and hear about the tragic deaths and suicides. You just don’t think it’s ever going to touch you in a personal way and it does and it just changes your life forever,” said Audrie’s aunt Marian Pott Pollock.
“Don’t forget it. Let it change you in a good and positive way. Remember to treat people with love, kindness and fairness. The world is not always a fair place, but we can act in a certain way,” she said.
Speaking in tears, Jane Pollock, Audrie’s older cousin, read a letter that she wrote shortly after Audrie’s suicide. “I knew the second you were born you were the little sister that I’ve always wanted, and I would do everything that I can to protect you. I’m so sorry that I’ve failed at that.
“I will always remember the smile on your face, the laughter in your heart,” she said, describing Audrie as one who brought joy to everyone she met. “That gift is not stopped with the absence of your worldly body.”
Shortly after Audrie was taken off life-support, her organs were donated to other children.
“Through this tragedy, you have brought awareness to this terrible act of bullying and that your love will transform countless others including my own. I don’t even know how to continue this life without you,” said Jane, who shared with Audrie memories from childhood to her last moments spent with her cousin at a relative’s wedding, where they “celebrated life” together.
Lawrence (Larry) Pott, Audrie’s father, thanked everyone for coming. He said the messages that poured in every day since his daughter’s death have propped him and his family up. They didn’t know about the alleged assault and cyber-bullying until Audrie hung herself in her mom’s Los Altos home bathroom and afterwards her friends notified her mother there was more to the story.
“When we first found out about this…we didn’t know what had happened and we didn’t have a plan. We’ve decided that our mantra would be that no rock can go unturned,” said Larry Pott. “We had to look at every possibilities and circumstances.”
After seven-months of investigation, three 16-year-old boys – two at Saratoga High and one at Christopher High in Gilroy - were arrested last week and each faces two felony charges and a misdemeanor charge involving sexual battery and the distribution of child pornography – a case that put the national spotlight on sexual assault and bullying among adolescents.
“She was such a beautiful and special person. So much larger during her life and obviously so much larger now as well in her death,” said Audrie’s father. “She respected people. She loves her friends. She always did the right thing. She always tried to keep peace, so now we’ve decided that we’d keep the peace for her.”
Larry Pott and Audrie’s mother Sheila Pott had divorced and Audrie’s father has remarried to Lisa Pott, Audrie’s stepmother. Together, Audrie’s parents and stepmother formed the Audrie Pott Foundation along with Anthony Larman, Audrie’s classmate. The foundation’s mission is to positively impact students’ lives from the Bay Area through providing art and music scholarships and counseling and education services.
“To the students, we’re so grateful…we want you to know that we support you,” said Audrie’s father. “Every day we get opportunities in our lives to do the right thing. You guys can do that, and we’re here for you and we appreciate everything.”
Classmates and teens from the Santa Clara area and supporters from throughout Bay Area held candlelight vigils in remembrance of Audrie Pott at Saratoga High School on April 19, 2013.(Audrie Pott Foundation)
The Pott family has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the boy’s families and a civil claim against the school, which preserves their right to sue. The three boys who were arrested little less than two weeks ago are identified as members of the Saratoga High football team.
According to the Pott family lawyer, Robert Allard, photos taken of Audrie’s sexual-assault were passed among the football team players. The student newspaper reported Monday that they have evidence that 10 students have seen these photographs, said Larry Pott at Monday’s press conference.
Private investigators hired by Allard have tried to talk to the 13 students at the party and their parents, but they were met with silence and closed doors, according to ABC News. The Pott family attorney alleged that the suspects destroyed evidence after the alleged assault.
The Pott family wants their daughter’s case to become a model for a law bearing her name, in which juveniles arrested in the most heinous cases of cyber-bullying be tried as adults, according to Allard.