Eight days after being sexually assaulted while passed out at a party, and then humiliated by online photos, 15-year-old Audrie Pott posted on Facebook that her life was ruined, "worst day ever," and hanged herself, the family's lawyer said.
For the next eight months, her family struggled to figure out what happened to their soccer loving, artistic, horse crazy daughter, whose gentle smile, long dark hair and shining eyes belied a struggling soul.
And then on Thursday, seven months after the tragedy, a California sheriff's office arrested three 16-year-old boys on suspicion of sexual battery. The arrests "reopened a wound" for family members of Pott, and they have gone into seclusion, family attorney Robert Allard said.
"The family has been trying to understand why their loving daughter would have taken her life at such a young age and to make sure that those responsible would be held accountable," said Allard.
'The boys savagely took advantage of her while she had no ability to defend herself and then what happened afterwards may have been worse.'—Robert Allard, family attorney
"After an extensive investigation that we have conducted on behalf of the family, there is no doubt in our minds that the victim, then only 15 years old, was savagely assaulted by her fellow high school students while she lay on a bed completely unconscious."
Allard said students used cell phones to share photos of the attack, and that the images went viral.
"The boys savagely took advantage of her while she had no ability to defend herself and then what happened afterwards may have been worse. They rubbed her nose in it effectively by spreading around at least one photograph of the assault taking place and various taunting messages about what happened," he told CBC's Norma Lee MacLeod of Maritime Noon.
2 felonies, 1 misdemeanor
Family members of the girl said on Friday they suspect the attackers tried to destroy evidence. The family claim was posted on a Facebook page for a foundation set up in her name. It did not provide further details, and the Santa Clara County sheriff's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Santa Clara County Sheriff's Lt. Jose Cardoza said it arrested two of the teens at Saratoga High School and the third, a former Saratoga High student, at Christopher High School in Gilroy on Thursday. The names of the suspects were not released because they are minors.
Cardoza said the suspects were booked into juvenile hall and face two felonies and one misdemeanor each, all related to sexual battery that allegedly occurred at a Saratoga house party.
The lieutenant said the arrests were the result of information gathered by his agency's Saratoga High School resource officers. He said the investigation is ongoing, and Los Gatos police also continue looking into the girl's September suicide.
The Associated Press does not, as a rule, identify victims of sexual assault. But in this case, Pott's family wanted her name and case known, Allard said. The family also provided a photo to the AP.
'Would never do anything to harm anyone'
The girl's family members did not comment and have requested privacy until a planned news conference Tuesday. Her father and step-mother Lawrence and Lisa Pott, along with her mother Sheila Pott, have started the Audrie Pott Foundation to provide music and art scholarships and offer youth counseling and support.
The foundation website alludes to the teen's struggles, but until now neither law enforcement, school officials nor family have discussed the sexual battery.
"She was compassionate about life, her friends, her family, and would never do anything to harm anyone," the site says. "She was in the process of developing the ability to cope with the cruelty of this world but had not quite figured it all out.
"Ultimately, she had not yet acquired the antibiotics to deal with the challenges present for teens in today's society."
On the day Pott died, Saratoga High School principal Paul Robinson announced her death, stunning classmates. Two days later other students and staff wore her favorite color, teal, in her honor.
Robinson wasn't immediately available for comment Thursday.
The Pott family is not alone.
In Canada, authorities said they are looking further into the case of a 17-year-old girl who killed herself Sunday after an alleged rape and months of bullying. A photo said to be of the 2011 assault of Rehtaeh Parsons was shared online. She was 15 at the time.
"The power that these children have with simply a phone … These kids have to be educated as to the power of pressing a button. You can destroy someone’s life, especially someone susceptible to emotional injury — as teenagers are," said Allard.
No charges initially were filed against four teenage boys being investigated. But after an outcry, Nova Scotia's justice minister appointed four government departments to look into Parsons' case.