SARATOGA, Calif. — Fifteen-year-old Audrie Pott passed out drunk at a friend's house, woke up and concluded she had been sexually abused.
In the days that followed, she was shocked to see an explicit photo of herself circulating among her classmates along with emails and text messages about the episode. And she was horrified to discover that her attackers were three of her friends, her family's lawyer says. Eight days after the party, she hanged herself.
"She pieced together with emails and texts who had done this to her. They were her friends. Her friends!" said family attorney Robert Allard. "That was the worst"
On Thursday, sheriff's officials arrested three 16-year-old boys on suspicion of sexual battery against Audrie, who committed suicide in September.
The arrests and the details that came spilling out shocked many in this prosperous Silicon Valley suburb of 30,000. And together with two other episodes recently in the news — a suicide in Canada and a rape in Steubenville, Ohio — the case underscored the seeming callousness with which some young people use technology.
"The problem with digital technologies is they can expand the harm that people suffer greatly," said Nancy Willard, an Oregon-based cyberbullying expert and creator of a prevention program for schools.
Santa Clara County sheriff's officials would not give any details on the circumstances around Audrie's suicide. But Allard said Audrie had been drinking at a sleepover at a friend's house, passed out and "woke up to the worst nightmare imaginable." She knew she had been assaulted, he said.
She soon found an abundance of material online about that night, including a picture.
"We are talking about a systematic distributing of a photo involving an intimate body part of hers," Allard said. He said distributing the photo was "equally insidious as the assault."
She also discovered that her attackers were three boys she considered friends — young men in whom she had confided, the lawyer said.
On Facebook, Audrie said the whole school knew what happened, and she complained that her life was ruined — "worst day ever," Allard said.
Her parents did not learn about the assault until after her death, when Audrie's friends approached them, Allard said.
Family members also believe the attackers tried to destroy evidence. That claim was posted on a Facebook page for a foundation set up in the girl's name.
In Canada, meanwhile, police said Friday they have received new information and are reopening their investigation in the case of 17-year-old suicide victim Rehtaeh Parsons.
Parsons was photographed while being sexually assaulted in 2011 and was then bullied after the photo was shared on the Web, authorities said. Police initially concluded there were no grounds to charge anyone.
In Steubenville, Ohio, two high school football players were convicted last month of raping a drunken 16-year-old girl in a crime that was recorded on cellphones by students and gossiped about online. The victim herself realized she had been attacked after seeing text messages, a photo of herself naked and a video that mocked her.
The suspects in the Saratoga case were booked into juvenile hall. Their names were not released.
The news surprised residents of the town. "People in this town are involved, parents advocate for their kids to get the best education, the best teachers, the best sports," said Jamie Perez, who was walking her baby and her dog on Friday past a coffee shop.