The Bullies of Fayetteville

Dan Barry writes a weekly column for the New York Times called “This Land,” and this week’s entry tells the sad story of Billy Wolfe, a 15-year-old in Fayetteville, Arkansas, who has endured constant bullying from his classmates for the past several years. How Barry found Wolfe I don’t know; that’s his particular knack as a reporter. From week to week he visits out-of-the-way towns and digs up off-news anecdotes about everyday life in small-town America. Think of him as a sort of latter-day Charles Kuralt, but trade in Kuralt’s populist generosity and sense of wonder for Barry’s center-left moralism. His writing typically grates on me–too many clever leads, too much alliteration and staccato laundry lists, prose that tints too readily toward purplish hues–and this week’s dispatch on Wolfe is no exception. But leave my thoughts on Barry’s showy writing aside and read the story for what it is: a heartbreaker about chronic abuse and institutional indifference. There are no policy prescriptions here, no calls for antibullying legislation or expulsions for the kids who formed the Facebook page called “Every One That Hates Billy Wolfe”–although I thought I detected a call for a police crackdown in between the lines. What’s there is a sensitive portrait of a kid coping with the pain, in his case psychological as well as physical, of adolescence, and of a mother who’s launched a lonely, so far unsuccessful, crusade to keep her son safe from harm. It’s a multimedia package, too, complete with a slide show of photos and a short audio clip in which Billy describes the torments he has faced at school. Spend some time with the story and you’ll come away hoping Billy and thousands like him make it to adulthood intact. That’s a low bar to set, maybe, but then again, maybe it’s not.

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10 responses to “The Bullies of Fayetteville

  1. I read this story and came away sad and incredulous. Many questions come to mind – but one that sticks is, what are the parents thinking? OK, a principled stand – but hell, get your kid out of that mess and to another place, far away, where he can start anew. There is no reason to have him face this day after day – imagine the terror his life is. And what he will ask himself when he does reach adulthood, scarred in unknowable ways, is ‘why? why didn’t you move us, mom and dad, why didn’t we go to Michigan or California or even the next county over, where I could be just another goofy teen?’ Not to blame the parents for the breakdowns in social values and institutional support, but in the face of these things, and for your child’s sake, get away – fast.

  2. There’s no excuse, in this day and age, for the administration at Fayetteville to be so abysmally ignorant of the consequences of rampant bullying and abuse in a school. Billy is not the only one who is tormented at Fayetteville. The culture of bulling includes a culture of silence – by those who are also abused and those who are afraid of becoming ‘like Billy’, and complicity by staff and administrators who refuse to intervene.

    His parents have a problem, however. Moving out of the district could do a lot to give this young man a new start on life. Especially given the participation of administrators and staff in the culture of abuse at Fayetteville.

    Harris and Klebold didn’t go ‘nuts’ one day after playing violent video games. They snapped after spending years in the abusive, violent atmosphere of Columbine. Congratulations, Fayeteville HS: you too, could be the next Columbine – and you’ll have your own inadequacy and complicity to blame.

  3. I agree with the sentiments of the previous two comments. The child being picked on looks like a decent human being surrounded by demons but yet he is taking the abuse very gracefully. I think he is not wired to be a Dylan Klebold/etc, for some reason. Maybe cause I just have a mother’s instinct, I don’t know. ( I am very good at sizing up people’s personalities and can spot b.s. very quickly!)

    Would home schooling or private schooling be a viable option for them? I am sure they might have thought of that, but even that might not stop the thugs from attacking him.

    Reading this really makes me fume, because I was teased mercilessly for having tan skin, a different nationality and good grades. I don’t want to see it happen again to a good child (especially when the victim appears to be a kind person.)

  4. I used to go to Fayetteville High School last year, but I moved. I’m a JR now.

    Billy Wolfe is in instigator when it comes to all those fights and bullying he’s been in. He mouths off and antagonizes the people, and sometimes they are the people who end up beating him up.

    But whether or not he instigates or not, he should never have to feel like his life is in danger or fear that he’s going to get beat up. Whether or not he brought this on himself, which is what many people at the high school are saying, does not matter. School is for getting an EDUCATION, not beating up and harassing eachother.

    Some of the things I’ve heard other students say on our local news just really disappoints me. They say that he deserved everything he got.
    THATS NOT TRUE.

    When someone is bothering you, and harassing you, or making fun of you, you just ignore them. Just move on with it. By beating him up, they’re letting him win.

    I’m glad that this has been brought out to the media, he and his family are doing this to make a point.

    Bullying needs to get under control, or we’ll have more school shootings and tragedies on our hands.

    Fayetteville High School is not a bad school, they usually are really strict and tight when it comes to bullying. They usually handle it right away. Why they haven’t handled this, I don’t know. But before you attack a high school for one incident, you need to do research and see that they do actually have a very strict bullying policy.

  5. I am a student at Fayetteville High School. I do not know Billy Wolfe but I will say I have compassion for someone that lives in fear. Aside from an occasional sexual comment, I have never been physically assaulted at my school. I have to stand up for our staff and administrators by saying that they are swift with punishment when punishment is necessary. In watching the videos of Billy’s attacks, I find them very sad. I see the marks on Billy but I don’t know where those marks came from. I see a black eye, a scraped forehead, a red arm but can’t tell where these incidents occurred. It saddens me to see Billy attacked on the school bus. It is the only video that shows that Billy was on school property. I feel for Billy and his family if this is happening to him without being provoked. I would like to say that I am a student council representative and know for a fact that bullying is in no way acceptable or condoned at our school. I have seen many people be punished for fighting or breaking the rules. I am offended that our school has been pinpointed for such offenses. We are a very decent community. Actually people move here to put their children in Fayetteville Public Schools. I will be interested to see how this situation turns out.

  6. I have gone to school with Billy Wolfe for awhile. He is the bully. I’m so sad that the world is only hearing one side of the story! People, stop and think.. People are not just coming up to him at random to hit him or say something rude to him. He has to be provoking it in some way! Not only has he bullied me but also some of my friends and fellow classmates. I do agree though that there is NO excuse for fighting or bullying anyone but people reach their breaking point when he constantally antagonizes everything!! High School is tough for everyone, but if its REALLY this bad which i know its bullshit..then his parents need to move him to a different school. And IF they do move him i garuntee the same thing will happen to him until he stops instagating!

  7. 1. Fighting The “Gang Mentality”
    By Anonymous (Male)
    I bet the bullies that actually fight with Billy are actually being manipulated by their friends. This is how it works: the ring leader decides to demonstrate his power by manipulating his or her minions to harass a seemingly vulnerable student. The ring leader says “so-and so is x, y and Z”. If you minions want to be in my click you must punish so an so. Off the minions go to execute their masters bidding. Of course, the master (alpha male or female) does not use such direct language – his or her instructions are subtle, but well understood. Often the ring leader avoids punishment because they are smart enough to avoid direct involvement. Instead they sit back and enjoy the show – manipulating their simple minded minions and indirectly bulling those that they cannot affectively control.
    Please do not encourage the victim to fight. The result can easily be devastating. Encourage the victim to use the law. Fights can go bad wrong. Lost teeth, death fro traumatic head injury, choking deaths, eye damage. The victim may not be willing to lose they may choke stab shoot hit with object ect…. the aggressor may be really mean – and or stupid he could do any of the above. Often the aggressor is just some stupid person that the real bully is using as a proxy
    My fights didn’t end to bad – A good undercut cracked my molar – and the magnetic CB antenna base plate I was holding severely injured and attacker – he came close to death. He was a good person manipulated by rotten idiots – what if I killed him?? I like my teeth and would have liked to skip the gold crown. My hands are still scared from the teeth and bone of the attackers I have been forced to fight. And yes, I have run from many fights also. I am proud to say I have never fought some who did not first attack me. I have learned through the years and I am now better able to stay away from dangerous people. Being out of school helps because it is hard to stay away from them when you are in the same school.
    Martial arts are great, but you don’t have to study them long to figure out how to kill someone – man its strange but 8 out of 10 fights I have been in were with some dummy that didn’t even realize he was fighting for someone else. Do you really want to kill someone like this. I don’t want to spend 20 years in jail. You don’t want your son or daughter going to reform school – I hear the fighting there is worse. They will be taught how to smoke crack.
    The school system needs to be trained to circumvent the sub grouping that is taking place at this undisciplined school. The school is obviously slandering the victim. Blame the victim – is the best tactic to use – its great when you can convince your parents and teachers that your violent behavior is ok. And guess what – allot of the uninvolved students concur that Billy is the problem. But, the truth is – they may actually be the behind the scene manipulator. Some of the students are saying “ I just avoid Bill”. That’s great so half the kids are physically and verbally torturing Billy and the other half are isolating him socially. May as well shot him in the head. Look Dummies be nice to Billy show him by example how to act. Help him make friends. Show some compassion.

    There is this great saying in this old book I looked in once. Goes something like “ Treat others as you would like to be treated” – I find when I am able to do this I sleep better. I’m not real good at it, but I am going to try to do better.

  8. Concerned Citizen

    Letter from Wolfe attorney

    As you may know, I have been involved in a high profile case involving bullying at Fayetteville High School. You might have read an article in the NWA Times that we consider very unfair and irresponsible. Curt and Penney Wolfe have responded w/ the letter below. They do not have the resources of the Fayetteville School District and the Northwest Arkansas Times to rebut the irresponsible articles and press releases. After reading the letter, if you feel compelled to help we ask that you simply forward this letter to some of your friends. Then, we ask that you email the Northwest Arkansas Times and ask them to print the Wolfe’s response in its entirety. The Northwest Arkansas Times email is:

    email@nwarktimes.com

    A LETTER TO FAYETTEVILLE FROM A MOTHER AND FATHER

    As parents we hope that your children never have to endure the wrath of the public relations machines of Fayetteville School District and the Northwest Arkansas Times. Under the headline of “Who’s the bully? Police school records raise questions about claims made by Fayetteville High Student,” the Northwest Arkansas Times became a part of the problem instead of the solution. The head line is wrong and the Northwest Arkansas Times had all the information that we are sharing with you before it printed the article.

    With the exception of one, all of the boys interviewed have brutally assaulted our son, or have participated in the Facebook group entitled “Everyone That Hates Billy Wolfe” including Dylan Gray who suffers from muscular dystrophy and is in a wheel chair. Dylan was one of the creators of the Facebook site. All of the boys interviewed have violated the criminal statutes of the State of Arkansas, except for Andrew Holtzen who claims our son threw dirt clods at his house. In this Facebook group they called our son a “b****” and reminded everybody how they yelled “F*** you” at him and hit him in the face with a newspaper and the teacher did nothing. Ian Teeters states in the Northwest Arkansas Times’ article that our son is blowing this all out of proportion and “[he] never really planned to hit Wolfe.” The Northwest Arkansas Times presents the attack as if Ian Teeters stepped in the middle of an altercation between our son and another student whose name is Will Starks. That is far from the truth.

    On March 7, 2007, Will Starks posted on Facebook that “everybody’s going to kick his ass” referring to our son. On March 8, 2007, Will Starks stated “ha ha who said I was going to hit him? Ha ha nah I got people who are going to do it 4 me…”

    On March 9, 2008, another Facebook site that encouraged “Everybody Start Carrying Their Cameras to School and Provoking People to get into Fights! We Need Some Pictures!!” the bragging continued. Will Starks stated further:

    “my friend just clocks this little b*** right in his jaw and ends up bustin out 1 or 2 of his teeth and this little hoe just drops to the floor and just passes the F**** out or just starts ballin ___ but it was funny as sh**!!! I’m a little made that I didn’t get a punch in b/c a teacher was right around the corner ……. agh damn I wish I could of.”

    We brought these posts to the attention of Byron Zeagler who did not approach any of these kids. On March 9, 2008 Ian Teeters sucker punched our son knocking him out cold. His whole face was bruised. It was not Ian Teeters stepping in between Will Starks and our son. It was a cold blooded and pre-planned attack. One 14 year old girl related the attack to her mother as follows:

    She said a big boy just turned around and punched Wolfe in the face with his fist so hard it knocked him to the floor. She said that Wolfe had done nothing to this boy whom she did not know. The teachers stuck their heads out of the doors and said “kids cut it out.” They ignored the attack. This angered her and she wanted to say something to the big boy that hit Wolfe, but she was too scared.

    This was not an attack brought on by our son as the Northwest Arkansas Times and the School District would have you believe. Lindsey Broadway, the daughter of an FHS coach and teacher, posted in a new Facebook group entitled “Bias.” Lindsey claimed that she spoke with her father and another teacher, and that they spoke negatively about Billy’s academic performance. It does not surprise us that teachers continue to talk negatively and breed this culture of hate as they are just following the administration’s example. There is no way our son can learn in this hostile environment. She further stated “part of me wishes he would get the crap beaten out of him, he is lier [sic] and there is no need for that…he is lying!” Finally, she stated as if it were a fact that “Billy killed Dylan’s cat.”

    Lindsey is just one of the students engaging in an intentional rumor spreading campaign on the internet. A significant number of these posts are being done during school time, supposedly at Fayetteville High School. The posts appear to be a coordinated effort to portray our son as a “cat killer,” that is cruel to animals in general. The only student thus far to post a conflicting opinion was Dylan Gray himself (the owner of the cat that many students claim our son killed) who posted that he only “suspect[ed] that he killed my cat.” Our son did NOT kill Dylan’s cat. Our son is NOT cruel to animals. These rumors are just more savage assaults on our son. The vast majority of the student’s accounts offer nothing more than rumors; things the students have heard from “friends” or sadly, parents and teachers as in Lindsey’s case. We have been very careful to only relay facts, or events that we have witnessed first hand to every media outlet we have spoken with. It’s unfortunate (but predictable) that our son’s attackers, the Northwest Arkansas Times and the School District are not doing the same.

    Perhaps most heartbreaking is the continued bullying by the Fayetteville School District’s Public Relations Department and its Superintendent. On March 24, 2008, the school district issued a press release stating “In fact, the whole story cannot be told, since the Federal Family and Education Right to Privacy Act prohibits the release of any information from a student’s record to anyone other than the student’s parent or guardian,” inferring that if the New York Times writer knew that our son was really a loser, he would not be writing the article. John Brummett of the Morning News confirmed our suspicions in his April 3rd column where he wrote that although Bobby New, Fayetteville’s Superintendent of Schools could not discuss student’s disciplinary records, Mr. New pointed out to Mr. Brummett, with an assumed wink, a letter to the editor in the NWA Times which offered that it was the “shared opinion” that our son “picks fights,” he is “rude to his superiors” and his mother is an “opportunist.” This comes from a man that is supposed to protect our son. Statements like these from the School District are why it is necessary to have a police car at our son’s bus stop. This same attitude is why he has been beaten time and again. The School District is creating a culture of hatred along with the bullies and the Northwest Arkansas to savage our son and our family. By the way, the young man that signed the letter to the editor (we expect that it was written by the school district) in the Northwest Arkansas Times is the same young man that stated in the Northwest Arkansas Times article that our son threw dirt clods at his house.

    The press release goes on to state that the District has no jurisdiction over many of the incidents leaving the impression that the District was somehow absolved of its responsibility. Please note that out of the nine (9) incidents noted by the Northwest Arkansas Times, eight (8) happened on school property or on the way to school. Also, please note that there was no police report available for six (6) out of the nine (9) incidents. The report for the one incident that occurred outside of the jurisdiction of the school was unavailable because the perpetrators were juveniles. The two available police reports were only made because we reported the attacks after the school refused to report.

    It is interesting that although the School District and Superintendent New seem to lament that the federal laws prevent them from releasing student information they somehow found a way to get Byron Zeagler’s private notes about our son into the Northwest Arkansas Times with the purpose of making him look like a trouble maker. First of all, our son does not remember most of these incidents and secondly and most important are his individual education plans (“IEPs”) for the last four years. Our son is a special education student and a committee made up of his principal and his teachers develop a plan for him. This committee is one of Byron Zeagler’s responsibilities. For the last four years the committee stated that Billy needed no behavioral interventions. If Mr. Zeagler thought Billy’s behavior was a problem, it should have been in these documents. Instead of Mr. Zeagler providing the assessment of the controlling legal documents to the police or the press, he made his private notes available. Why? He did not have accountability to the committee for his private notes. The more incriminating question is why these documents were supplied to the police when our son was savagely attacked as noted above. Certainly he got our son’s records confused with Ian Teeters, the attacker. We wonder if Ian Teeters’ records are going to be made available to the Northwest Arkansas Times or does Mr. Zeagler only keep private notes on our son? Our son’s IEP reports showing this information will be made available to anybody that asks. Mr. Zeagler has defamed and terrorized our son. The IEP report goes further and states that Billy is “quiet, cooperative and pleasant, but has recently had dark circles under his eyes and they recommend counseling to help reduce his anxieties.” At the end of his IEP review one of the teachers said the ” bleeding of Billy Wolfe has to stop.” It will stop.

    We will be glad to provide all of our son’s records, Facebook posts and other source documents to back up this letter. These are the same documents that were in large provided to the Northwest Arkansas Times and were ignored.

    Sincerely,

    Penney and Curt Wolfe

  9. I’d give anything to be able to write to the Wolfe’s directly and offer my support to them, their son and their, in my opinion, more-than-justified lawsuit. The school system has failed them, by not suspending the bullies. If it was my child, I would move – and swiftly – to a more liberal region of the country where the child can breathe and flourish, regardless of financial sacrifice. There are such places – northern Calif. is one. No family should have to endure this kind of pain for such reasons as bullying and character defamation. I hope the gavel comes down – hard.

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