TEXAS CITY, Texas — After a yearlong investigation into the cyberbullying death of Brandy Vela, the Texas City Police Department and U.S. Marshals have made an arrest.
Vela’s former boyfriend Andres Arturo Villagomez, 21, of Galveston and his current girlfriend Karinthya Sanchez Romero, 22, were arrested on Thursday. Villagomez was charged with unlawful disclosure or promotion of intimate visual material and Sanchez was charged with stalking and online impersonation.
Villagomez is currently being held on a $2,500.00 bond and Romero is being held on two bonds totaling $20,000.00.
Brandy Vela, 18, shot herself in front of her parents after being relentlessly cyberbullied. The Texas teen, who was described by her school as well-liked and friendly, was buried Dec. 7, 2016. By Friday, someone had opened a social media page in her memory, but it was quickly filled with disturbing posts about her; the cyberbullying literally following her to the grave.
The harassment continues
“Two days after her funeral, somebody opened up a social media page in her name and people thought the family did it. It started with people putting sincere condolences but after a few minutes, either four people or the same person posting four times said some things harassing Brandy about being a big fat cow, writing ‘you finally did it’ with a picture of a gun, writing ‘you’re a coward,’ ‘you should have done this a long time ago,’ some really horrific things,” Raul Vela, father of Brandy Vela said.
The Vela family provided screenshots of the posts, but CNN is not publishing them because of their offensive nature.
One of the posts shows a smiling Brandy with the words “my face when you shoot yourself in front of your family.” Another is a stick figure holding a gun with the words, “oops am I dead?” A third shows a gun hidden inside a book.
“People are more likely to write horrible things when they think they’re being anonymous,” said psychologist Susan Swearer, co-founder of the Bullying Research Network. “From a psychological perspective, people who write horrible things about other people, particularly after they’ve passed away, they have their own mental health issues.”
She says Vela did the right thing by reporting the social media pages to authorities.
“When people feel emboldened to write mean and hurtful things about other people, they’ll just extend it to siblings or families,” Swearer said.
Vela, whose family was avoiding social media in the wake of Brandy’s death, said the posts were first brought to their attention by friends.
Shortly after the news of Brandy’s death broke, people also began attacking Vela online, he said.
“People were putting comments about me saying that I should have done something different, so I blocked it all. I’m not reading it anymore,” he said.
“They’re still harassing her, but she’s no longer with us, so it’s more like they’re harassing me and my family.”
Police have told the Velas that they’ll be able to trace the posts, and the culprits will be prosecuted.
Vela can’t change what happened to his daughter, so he’s trying to persuade state lawmakers to increase restrictions on social media, making it harder for cyberbullies to stay anonymous.
He met with local legislators and community representatives and says they came up with good ideas, such as providing specialized counseling and mental health support at schools for victims like his daughter.
“Right now, my job is to raise awareness. I’m not trying to blame people or point fingers. I want people who are still being bullied to know that I want to change things. I feel like she put this in my hands to try and get help for people in the same situation. It’s unfortunate that something tragic has to happen to make changes come,” Vela said.
He said he wants every police department in the nation to have at least one officer trained to pursue cyberbullying crimes. He called Brandy’s death a murder, saying she was pushed to the breaking point.
“I feel like these people are cowards, these people hiding behind the texts and fake pages. They’re the ones who pushed her to this point. She lost all her self-esteem, lost all her self-worth,” he said.