A few weeks ago, Plano West junior Shea Shawhan had only a handful of friends. Now she has an army of supporters around the world.
Shea captured hearts nationally – and internationally – after news surfaced of her bullying at the hands of anonymous texters, presumably students at her high school.
Shea, 18, has the mental capacity of an 8-year-old because of a brain injury she suffered at birth. She also experiences life-threatening seizures.
In February, Shea started receiving cruel text messages bashing her for her appearance and special needs. The Plano Police Department was contacted, but based on the content of the texts, there was no criminal offense, said Officer David Tilley, department spokesman.
“I knew someone would send her a text because she would have a seizure,” said Keri Riddell, Shea’s mother. “I think she had more than 30 [seizures] last year at school, and two at home. The texts not only caused seizures, but a very sad depression. She just kind of existed. I would do everything I could to make her happy, and she just looked empty.”
Riddell changed her daughter’s phone number at the suggestion of police, but the texts continued, eventually escalating to death threats. Riddell filed a police report Oct. 2, and the case was reopened.
Riddell started a Facebook page Oct. 1 called “I’m With Shea” that has garnered more than 70,000 supporters worldwide. The police are actively pursuing the investigation and working with a web app company called Pinger to find out who has been tormenting the teenager through fake phone numbers.
Lesley Range-Stanton, Plano ISD director for communications, said the district works carefully with students being bullied.
“We make sure that students are connected with support resources as appropriate, and our counselors stay in touch with them with regard to their safety and well-being at school,” she said. “Our expectation is that all students treat each other with respect and civility. When a student violates that expectation we take appropriate actions to reinforce those expectations.”
Plano PD is pursuing a class B misdemeanor charge against the perpetrator, which is punishable by up to 180 days in jail and up to a $2,000 fine, Tilley said.
Although no one has come forward with information on the anonymous bully, police are optimistic the culprit will be found.
“My understanding is they are working on a $500 reward through Campus Crime Stoppers for information that leads to the arrest,” Tilley said. “Normally it’s only up to $100, but they received a donation from a citizen to make it a flat $500.”
October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and Riddell is determined to find out who has been tormenting her daughter.
“With each text and stress-induced seizure, it was like taking a punch to the face with a bag over my head. I had just had it,” Riddell said. “Justice will be served, and I will be pressing charges. I want to get this person to see the stress Shea has to feel everyday just to stay alive.”
Shea, on the other hand, is enjoying being showered with support and encouragement. The Dallas Mavericks cheerleaders took pictures with her and owner Mark Cuban complimented Shea on her beautiful smile. Riddell said their carhop at Sonic Drive-In recognized them and said she was bullied and that Shea inspired her.
“No matter what people say about you, do not believe them because it is not true,” Shea said. “You are beautiful, you are strong and you are that one person that is going to shine.”
The texts have stopped, and Shea has only had two seizures in the last 30 days. At the peak of the bullying, she experienced 10 per month.
“I won’t let anyone tell me what I can and can’t do. I will not let people bully me. I am strong. I’m not popular and don’t need to be,” Shea texted her mom. “I have a disability, but that doesn’t mean I’m not smart. No one is perfect in the world. I am me and that is awesome.”
For local news updates follow @BF_StarNews on Twitter.