On the morning of her 17th birthday, Isabella “Belle” Hankey woke up to find a silver Ford Escape parked in her garage in Carlisle – a gift from her parents. She was thrilled. But her happiness would not last.
“The next day…” she said, seated next to her mother and her lawyer in his Needham office on Tuesday, her eyes red and her voice trailing off.
On Oct. 6, 2011, the popular, athletic junior parked her car in Concord-Carlisle High School’s parking lot, and came back to find it scored with three deep key scratches. It marked the beginning of nearly two years of alleged bullying so disturbing that Hankey says she enrolled in an alternative high school program and suffered health problems.
Hackney on Monday filed a $2 million federal civil rights lawsuit against the towns of Concord and Carlisle, the Concord-Carlisle school district, and three school administrators, alleging that the school did nothing to stop the bullying, which included death threats, and instead destroyed evidence.
Tuesday afternoon, a spokesman for Concord Carlisle said the school system takes allegations of bullying seriously, but he declined to comment further.
"The school district cannot comment on a complaint which it has not even seen, and we would not discuss publicly the private concerns of any student. We can say we take the issue of harassment very seriously, and that the district is committed to providing a safe learning environment for all of our students. Beyond that we can offer no comment at this time,'' said John Flaherty, deputy superintendent of finance and operations.
Other school officials could not be reached for comment.
In an interview Tuesday, Hankey said that a few months after the bullying started, in February 2012, she found her driver’s side door smeared with feces.
“I was in shock, it was disgusting,” she said Tuesday. “Who is physically capable of doing something so disgusting?”
Hankey began to feel anxious and suspicious walking through her high school halls. She had no enemies, no feuds. She was pretty, happy, played softball and basketball. She had athletic rivals, but no one, she thought, who would ever do this.
“I hated walking in the halls, thinking that you could be walking by the person that hates you,” she said. “It’s terrifying. You think that it could be your friends, a stranger, anyone. The person sitting next to you in math class.”
The vandalism continued through May, with more insults scratched into her car.
Then, in June 2012, Hankey found the first death threat: “Kill Belle” carved into the bathroom wall in the high school locker room. Days later, came another threat: “Belle’s Dead at 9:15.”
In October, Hankey was hospitalized with what her suit alleges was a stress-induced blood clot in her leg. She suffered a pulmonary embolism – a sometimes fatal medical emergency – and was hospitalized again.
“I thought she was going to die,” said Hankey’s mother, as she began crying. “Just total fear.”
She graduated early, in January, unable to face the prospect of returning to classes in the main high school. Rivers and Revolutions is only one semester long, she said.
The suit, she said, is her way of protecting others from enduring what she did.
“I’m definitely still carrying it with me,” she said. “Hopefully this will help me have some closure on it.”