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Mother tells of cyber-bullying which drove daughter (16) to take own life

Elle Trowbridge celebrating her 16th birthday just weeks before she died.
Marie Louise McConville

A CO TYRONE mother-of-three has opened her heart about her teenage daughter's suicide in an effort to warn other parents about the dangers posed by online apps.

Mandy Trowbridge (38) said she is "heartbroken" by the death of her daughter Elle (16) but has vowed to remain strong to try to ensure no other young person falls victim.

Elle took her own life at the family home in Killyclogher, on the outskirts of Omagh, on April 24 after suffering abuse online at the hands of strangers.

She was first targeted at the age of 11. Her life took a downward spiral as she began to self-harm and was then diagnosed with depression at the age of 14.

Her family made every effort to get her the help she needed. However, when the 16-year-old award-winning show-jumper finally found herself doing well, she was once again targeted by faceless bullies.

Elle's death has once again brought to the forefront the shadowy world of social networking and the uncertainty surrounding apps available to young people.

Elle Trowbridge.

Ms Trowbridge said her daughter had innocently been using the ask.fm app - a global social networking site where users create profiles and can send each other questions, with the option of doing so anonymously - when she was targeted at the age of 11.

"The one which caused Elle a lot of distress was ask.fm," she said.

Ms Trowbridge said she "very quickly became aware" that comments left on the site were not traceable.

"The kind of things sent to Elle, that's when we realised they were telling her to harm herself," she said.

Following this, Elle was also sent abusive messages on BBM - an instant messenger application included on BlackBerry devices.

Picture of Elle Trowbridge.

"One of them commented 'Cut yourself so deep that you bleed to death. If this doesn't work, drink bleach and if that still doesn't work, throw yourself off a bridge," Ms Trowbridge said.

"Elle came in to me crying. She was totally distraught. I contacted police. They were very good. They took it very seriously. They explained it is non-traceable and get phone calls daily about them."

Soon after this, Ms Trowbridge discovered her young daughter had begun harming herself and did not want to leave her bedroom.

"Elle's safe place for me to get her out of her room was to take her to the horses. They were her safe place," she said.

Elle began to receive counselling after moving to Drumragh Integrated College and she joined the Drumragh Showjumpers as well as attending RD Equestrian in Fintona.

"I felt for the first time, somebody was listening," Ms Trowbridge said.

"Drumragh worked very well with Elle. It wasn't about what grades she was going in with. It was about Elle's wellbeing first. It did take her a short time to settle. I could then relax because I knew the school was taking very good care of her.

"I would always get a phone call if they thought Elle's mood was low or I would call the school if I thought her mood was low. They would email all Elle's teachers to keep an eye on her. The wellbeing of children is so important."

Prior to counselling Elle had been diagnosed with depression at the age of 14. Her mother believed she had been "very badly scarred" by the cyber-bullying experiences.

Ms Trowbridge told how the family undertood counselling sessions together.

"It was 100 per cent helpful. Elle spoke quite openly. She felt it had really helped her. Everyone was in a happy place and had an understanding of each other. She was so happy."

However, in February this year Ms Trowbridge said her daughter was in "floods of tears" after being sent an abusive message on the SimSimi App, which read: "Elle Trowbridge should go and get hit by a bus."

"There is no doubt in my mind that the person who sent that knew her," Ms Trowbridge said.

Mandy Trowbridge talks to the Irish News in her home in Omagh Picture by Hugh Russell.

"She hadn't cried like that in such a long time.

"Elle could not understand how anybody could be so cruel to want somebody dead. It's very hard to reassure a child to think that this individual is a person and they don't actually realise what they are saying or doing."

On April 24, just a month after Elle had celebrated her 16th birthday, she was found at home, having taken her own life.

Ms Trowbridge described the loss of her only daughter as "just heartbreaking".

"It does physically feel like you have had a stake put through your heart," she said.

"Every day is a struggle and yes, we're Elle's family and there's days we struggle bad but Elle's friends and the wider family miss her desperately.

"Suicide just doesn't have an effect on the family. It's a whole community. It opens up a lot of wounds for lots of other people. I have to be strong."

Ms Trowbridge is calling on parents to "take parental responsibility for our children" so "we know what is on their devices" and has adopted the slogan 'No More' for her campaign to help make cyberspace safe.

"Children are far more technologically advanced than parents but we have to put ourselves through some form of training about apps and social media," she said.

"We have to be re-educated. "Children are always going to be our future so we have to re-educate ourselves to help keep our children safe. We have to learn and know what is going on. The [campaign] phrase is

'No More'.

"Hundreds of new apps are being produced daily. I am in talks with people about apps and how to tackle the problem. These apps need a certificate of registration. Why is it not traceable?

"Children are children and children can be nasty because children don't understand the impact it can have on an individual.

"Children will argue [but] telling people to do this is a complete different level. The person who sent that message knows and they have to deal with it."

Ms Trowbridge said she will remember her daughter for her smile.

"She was vibrant. She had great humour and was very good at cracking jokes," she said.

"She was very caring and passionate about things. She loved animals. I think she felt animals gave genuine love. Horse-riding was everything.

"She would have passed all her GCSEs. She was staying on to do her A-levels. Elle would have fulfilled her dream, to be a horse-riding instructor.

"She had matured into a lovely, young lady.

"Elle's heart is now my heart and my heart will beat on and I will put everything I have into this `No More'."

PSNI receives reports of cyber-bullying from parents and young people "almost daily"

Detective Chief Inspector Stephen Wilson said that, although online abuse in itself may not "constitute a crime", police are "extremely conscious that for many, the online behaviour of others is having a destructive and distressing effect on their day-to-day lives".

"With new apps and websites being developed and launched every day and technology becoming more and more advanced, to a large degree, parents and probably society at large can struggle to keep up and young people can feel more and more isolated," he said.

"As a police service, when people come to us with their concerns, we will look at their report and where offences like harassment or making threats are being committed, we will take immediate action to address it.

"The difficulty is that much of the bullying behaviour that we see, while appalling and deeply upsetting, does not meet the threshold of a criminal offence. In these instances we will do our best to give advice to the young person and their parents".

Mr Wilson encouraged anyone experiencing any form of online bullying to "please talk".

"Do not keep it to yourself," he said.

"Share what you are experiencing with a parent, trusted teacher or another adult. You are not alone and you do not have to deal with this alone."

He also encouraged parents to "be active in discussing online safety" and "be involved" in their children's "online lives".

"Know what your children are looking at and who they are talking to," he said.

"Become aware of the apps that are out there, particularly those used by your child. Help them set up their privacy settings and ensure they know that they can come to you if anything or anyone online causes them concern.

"You can report online bullies or trolls to the individual site or app and block them. Many online bullies hide behind anonymising apps and platforms but it is important to remember that they will leave a digital footprint somewhere".

He added: "Online bullying is an area of concern for police and we would encourage anyone experiencing it to make contact with us. We will investigate whether criminal offences have been committed and if they have, we will pursue them."

Information and support is available at:

  • www.ceop.police.uk/safety-centre
  • www.getsafeonline.org
  • www.thinkyouknow.co.uk

If you have been affected by this story, you can contact Lifeline on 080 8808 8000 or the Samaritans on 116123.


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