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Teen cyberbully pleads guilty to terrorizing former Orono schoolmate

Posted March 26, 2013, at 12:40 p.m.
Last modified March 26, 2013, at 7:20 p.m.

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Lexi Henkel (from left) gets a hug from her father, Norbert, as they and Lexi's mother, Judy, talk to the media outside the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor on Tuesday.
Lexi Henkel (from left) gets a hug from her father, Norbert, as they and Lexi's mother, Judy, talk to the media outside the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor on Tuesday.
May Callahan (right) and her mother leave the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor on Tuesday after May's sentencing for the felony terrorizing of Lexi Henkel of Orono.
May Callahan (right) and her mother leave the Penobscot Judicial Center in Bangor on Tuesday after May's sentencing for the felony terrorizing of Lexi Henkel of Orono.

BANGOR, Maine — A 17-year-old former Orono High School student was sentenced in court Tuesday for terrorizing a girl she thought was flirting with her boyfriend.

May Callahan, who now lives in Scarborough, pleaded guilty to one count each of felony terrorizing and misdemeanor terrorizing during the juvenile justice proceeding at the Penobscot Judicial Center, according to Assistant District Attorney James Aucoin. One of the terrorizing charges was elevated to felony status because some of the threats prompted the victim and her family to evacuate their home, he said.

The Bangor Daily News is naming Callahan because she pleaded guilty to a felony.

Callahan received a suspended sentence but no jail time or fines.

The charges stem from dozens of threatening, anonymous messages that Callahan posted last fall on the Internet directed at 16-year-old Lexi Henkel, a former schoolmate who since has transferred to Old Town High School. The Bangor Daily News is naming Henkel because she and her parents have spoken publicly about the case.

Following are some of the offensive posts:

• “Ready for tomorrow night? I’d learn to sleep with your eyes open if I were you. I’m dulling my knife right now so when I stab you in the face, gut and legs it’ll be painful as possible.”

• “You know how all these environmental friendly groups say that waste should be properly disposed of? Well, come on Lexi, do the world a favor, and properly dispose of your [expletive deleted] self!”

• “Your face is like a baby seal. Fat, furry and just asking to be clubbed to death.”

Callahan was arrested and charged with terrorizing and harassment by electronic communication on Nov. 1 of last year by Veazie police Sgt. Keith Emery. At that time, she was released to her mother on the conditions that she have no contact with her victim, attend school and obey the rules of her home. The harassment charge was dropped in the plea negotiation.

In addition, Callahan was prohibited from using the Internet except for school purposes and was required to be supervised while doing so.

In December, however, the Penobscot County district atorney’s office issued a warrant after Callahan violated the terms of her release by making contact with Henkel via Instagram, a program and social network that allows users to share photos on a variety of other networking services, including Twitter and Facebook.

During the sentencing, Lexi Henkel and her parents — as well as Callahan — each spoke of how the cyberbullying incident affected them.

”This changed my life a lot,” Lexi Henkel said, noting that because of the threats she missed school and social activities, including homecoming.

“I had to transfer schools because people were giving me a hard time about everything and posting things and saying things,” she said. “It’s just [that] I don’t understand why she did this to me.”

Her parents, Judy and Norbert Henkel, alternated between tears and anger during their remarks.

“May Callahan, never in my life did I ever think I would come across a person as vile and disgusting as you are,” Judy Henkel said. “The things you wrote to my daughter were unbelievable. … How you come up with those things is beyond me.

“This was a young girl who did nothing to you. She couldn’t escape you. Every turn she took, you were there,” she said. “My daughter thought of taking her own life and I thank God every day for the relationship that I have with my daughter. For days and weeks I slept with my daughter in my arms to make sure that she was breathing.

“All over jealousy over nothing, you destroyed her life, you destroyed her high school years and you’re a coward. You couldn’t even post in your own name. You had to post anonymously,” she said.

Norbert Henkel spoke of the fear Callahan caused the family.

“Alexis lost her innocence. She, along with the rest of the family, is paying the price for your depraved behavior,” he said, noting that because his daughter did not immediately know who was behind the threats they feared for her life.

“For all we knew, it could have been anybody. … It was hard for me to believe a young girl could spew such mean and vile things like you did. What you wrote made me, as an adult, blush. You wrote things no young person — or anybody, for that matter — should know about.

“The sick ways you imagined killing my daughter still send chills down my back. … I’m glad you could be stopped before you could actually have Alexis,” he said, adding, “I do believe you and some of your friends would have done that.

“We don’t know how long her nightmares will continue. Nobody’s going be able to give my daughter her innocence back. Nobody is going to make her whole again anytime soon. Nobody is going to give the innocent times back that we should have had with our children,” he said.

“I’m disappointed to see how easy you will be getting off,” he said. “Alexis has — and will — suffer a lot more than you will, and she is the victim. Her life has forever changed.”

And although she stood just a few yards away from the Henkels, Callahan did not once make eye contact with any of them during Tuesday’s proceedings.

“This has impacted many people, mostly the victim,” Callahan said tearfully. “It has also impacted me. I admit to what I’ve done.

“To be honest, I just would like my life back,” she said, sobbing. “I’ve been doing everything I’m supposed to do. I’m doing very well in school. I am playing sports, I’m trying my best to be social and I just — I’m really sorry for what I’ve done.

Under the terms of her deferred disposition, Callahan is allowed to use her cellphone for talking and texting but remains barred from using social media until her caseworker deems it appropriate. She also must continue to undergo counseling, live with her parents, abide by a curfew and have no contact with the Henkels.

Judge Bruce Jordan took the time to explain to the Henkels why Callahan’s sentence wasn’t harsher.

Under state juvenile justice laws, the court is not supposed to put juveniles in an institution or incarcerate them as a first step except in cases of extreme misconduct.

“It’s quite clear that this is not a case that supports immediate incarceration and the reason for that is that the juvenile system is intended to be remedial and rehabilitative,” he said. Rather, he said, the idea “is to fix a problem before it becomes a problem later down the road.

“Ms. Callahan, there really is no excuse for your conduct or an explanation. Your remarks are disturbingly graphic and need to be addressed,” he said. He told Callahan that the restrictions imposed on her represent an “opportunity to demonstrate that this isn’t just talk, that, in fact, you get the point and that you’re sorry for what you did.”

The case has been continued for disposition until December, Aucoin said. If Callahan, who remains free, abides by the terms accepted by Judge Jordan, the felony terrorizing charge will be withdrawn but the misdemeanor charge will stand, and she will remain on probation until her 18th birthday next March, Aucoin said.

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