"People didn’t understand her." This is how Ana Kriégel's father put it as he described his late daughter. "She couldn't hate anyone even though some of the people were bullying her." The trial for the murder of the 14-year-old was predictably horrific but it also raised some other uncomfortable questions, writes Amanda Cassidy
Conor Gallagher’s article for the Irish Times was a masterpiece in crime journalism. His lengthy piece on the trial of the two young boys, referred to throughout as Boy A and Boy B, for the murder of schoolgirl Ana Kriégel was sensitive, informative and utterly heartbreaking.
Gallagher charted in great detail the faultless Garda investigation, the hours of interviews of both boys and the atmosphere inside the court as three families came to terms with what happened that fateful day in May 2018.
"Boy B held his mother's hand almost constantly."
On Tuesday, both boys were found guilty of her murder at the abandoned Glenwood house in Lucan after a seven-week trial.
“In court Boy A often rested his head on his father’s shoulder while Boy B held his mother’s hand almost constantly,” wrote Gallagher, illustrating just how young the boys really are.
Ana’s heartbroken mother spoke with quiet dignity about her beloved daughter whom she had adopted from Russia when she was just two years old. “Ana was never happier than when she was curled up on a Sunday watching some beautiful fairytale princess movie,” she told the court. But her childish dreams about becoming a dancer and learning the guitar died along with her, in a dark, dank room on the other side of St Catherine’s park.
As the trial progressed, we battled to get our heads around how this could have happened. But as the boys face sentencing on July 15, thoughts have now turned to how Ana was so badly let down in the lead up to her death? How was she bullied so unmercifully for so long?
It became clear quite quickly that Ana was a little different, her mother described her as unique and attention seeking, while one of the accused boys during his interview unkindly referred to her as a ‘weirdo’. Ana had health problems as a child which meant she had difficulty hearing and seeing. She was tall for her age and she stood out.
"She was told that she had a ‘fake mam and dad.'"
Her innocent exuberance for life, as outlined by her mother, meant she was a prime target for bullies. Ana, while in sixth class, was bullied by pupils in third year. On her YouTube dance videos, messages like ‘go die’ and 'I would have you executed' were left by others. As she attended counselling for some of her troubled behaviour, her dad would have to come and pick her up because she was terrified of being attacked by bullies on her way home (which had happened on more than one occasion).
Ana was mocked about her appearance, her videos, and even about being adopted. She was told that she had a ‘fake mam and dad.’
In short, the 14-year-old felt terrorised in her own community. This has lead to some serious questions about how this could have gone on, unchecked, for so long.
“This started with bullying, in school, in Leixlip,” one person commented on Twitter. Another wrote that one way Ireland could honour the memory of Ana Kriégel would be, "for every teacher in every school to talk to their students about the verdict, the consequences of bullying and why girls are not objects for male amusement and abuse”.
"During the reporting of this trial, many adults too needed reminding about their choice of words – on social media, in the papers and online".
"What makes a child murder another child is an impossible question to answer."
It also raises the question about the availability of violent pornography to children who can view abuse and disrespect of women as entertainment so easily. Thousands of videos of pornography was found on Boy A’s electronic devices. The boy was just 13, barely on the cusp of puberty.
Parents too, have a key role in ensuring that their children understand the importance of respect and honour and how to treat others, especially those who might seem a little more vulnerable. In a peer group environment, our children need that message reinforced.
What makes a child murder another child is an impossible question to answer, and linking it directly to bullying is presumptuous. But perhaps one of the outcomes of this sad story is to highlight the need to remind our children the importance of kindness and how words can hurt, deeply, irrevocably.
During the reporting of this trial, many adults too needed reminding about their choice of words – on social media, in the papers and online. Ana’s character wasn’t respected. Unnecessary details of a girl in her awkward adolescence were used as clickbait, turned sordid, and designed to portray her as something other than an emotionally turbulent teen. Isn't that, too, bullying of sorts?
"Cases like this deserve a response from society as a whole".
Picking on someone because they seem weak or different is cowardly and cruel. We should know this ourselves, practice it, and be teaching it to our children. It needs to be reinforced as an essential community-wide responsibility.
Tragically, Ana is dead and the boys found guilty of her murder will be incarcerated. Three sets of parents mourn the loss of their child, their innocence, their freedom and their future.
Cases like this deserve a response from society as a whole. Perhaps a collective determination to face down bullying is the only potential light to emerge from this horrific dark.
Image via RTE News
Read more: Social media vigilantism and the point everyone is missing when it comes to Boy A and Boy B