At 11, Audrie Pott of California was in the color guard of the only middle-school band to march in President Obama’s first inaugural parade.
“The president’s young daughters waved and cheered loudest for [this] group as all the other performers were so much older,” says a Pott family online posting about the Redwood Middle School’s moment in history.
At 15, Audrie committed suicide, eight days after a group of boys she thought were her friends allegedly gang-raped her while she was unconscious and distributed at least one photo from the attack online.
“My life is like ruined now,” Audrie announced on the Internet prior to hanging herself.
That was last September, four months before a 15-year-old from Chicago named Hadiya Pendleton performed as a majorette with her high school at Obama’s second inauguration. She was killed a week later, when a teen fired wildly in the direction of her and a group of her friends, mistakenly believing they were associated with a rival gang.
With the deaths of these two 15-year-olds, each of whom had played a part in an inauguration, a challenge now marches past the Capitol and the White House and every place on past in this country where laws are made, along with every school and home. The challenge for us all is to find better ways to protect our kids, be it from gun violence or from sexual violence.
First Lady Michelle Obama attended Hadiya's funeral and spoke of the murdered youngster again last week, while visiting a Chicago high school where 29 present and former students have been shot. She choked up as she spoke of the murdered 15-year-old.
“Hadiya Pendleton was me and I was her,” the first lady said.
The other 15-year-old, Audrie Pott, was also in the news last week, when police arrested three 16-year-old boys in connection with the September 2012 attack.
That report comes a month after two high-school football players in Ohio were convicted of raping a teen while she was passed out. They also posted a photo from the assault.
Up in Canada earlier this month, 17-year-old Rahtaeh Parsons hanged herself, still traumatized a year after a group of boys allegedly gang-raped her and posted a photo. Nobody has been arrested in that case, though the group Anonymous is threatening to reveal the boys’ identities.
In Audrie’s case, she is said to have gone to the home of a friend whose parents were away and joined other kids in drinking alcohol mixed with Gatorade. Audrie is further said to have retired upstairs alone to a bedroom and gone to sleep. She awoke the next morning to discover signs that she had been sexually assaulted, including what was described as “some drawing on her body in some private areas.”
“They did unimaginable things to her while she was unconscious," family attorney Robert Allard later told reporters.
Audrie’s stunned and grieving parents were unaware of the assault until after the suicide, when a group of her friends told them there was “more to the story than you know.” Her mother, Sheila Pott, went through her daughter’s emails, texts, and Facebook postings, finding numerous references to the assault and the ensuing anguish.
“The whole school knows,” Audrie Pott had written, by Allard’s account.
The parents are determined to make something positive arise from the horror. They have been pushing for an Audrie’s Law that would increase penalties for cyber-bullying and have juveniles charged with sexual assault treated like adults.
The parents have also founded the Audrie Pott Foundation “to support and guide local youth” with everything from scholarships to counseling to arts programs. The foundation’s website includes an “About Audrie” section, which notes that she played the viola and the piano and loved to sing, having soloed at age 4 before 1,000 people in church. She also loved scoring goals in soccer, volunteering at local horse stables, and going on grueling hikes. She won the school district's creative-writing contest in the second grade.
“She was compassionate about life, her friends, her family, and would never do anything to harm anyone,” the page 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.”
The page also reports that Audrie was in the Redwood Middle School band’s color guard when it marched in the first Obama inaugural parade. A delay in the start of the event had caused these kids from the sunny Silicon Valley suburb of Saratoga to wait for 90 minutes in cold so bitter that even one of the Marines in formation behind them dropped out. None of the Redwood kids did.
“They carried on faultlessly,” the page notes.
In videos of the parade, the Redwood band can be seen marching in perfect formation down Pennsylvania Avenue past the enclosed reviewing stand, the president’s daughters indeed smiling and waving at these young musicians who played with such precocious skill and the color guard that so expertly twirled and flourished banners of red, white, and blue.
Those being the colors of a country that is now challenged by the memory of Audrie at one inauguration and of Hadiya at the next to do so much more to protect our kids.