Nothing in the notes they left behind explained it, and nothing in their behavior in the hours or days leading up their deaths was alarming enough to give either of their mothers even a hint of what they were planning.
And now, 10 days after Haylee Fentress and Paige Behnke — two eighth-graders at a rural Minnesota school — hanged themselves in an apparent suicide pact, their mothers said they can draw no message from their deaths but this:
“Never, never let a day go by when you don’t tell your children that you love them and give them hugs,” Paige’s mother, Tricia Behnke, told TODAY’s Matt Lauer in an exclusive interview Tuesday.
A new kind of bullying
Certainly the two 14-year-olds faced struggles, Haylee’s mother, Tracy Fentress, told Lauer. Both had been counseled for depression, and Haylee was taking medication. And both had confided to family members that they had been teased and ridiculed, not so much in the middle school where they had become fast friends, but on Facebook.
“Bullying now is different than the traditional sense,” Tracy Fentress told Lauer. “Kids are so mean and cruel to each other, the things that they say to each other. It’s horrible.”Video: Bullying behind teen girls’ suicide pact? (on this page)
And both girls had faced trouble at school. Not long before their deaths, Haylee was expelled after getting into a fight to defend Paige when other students allegedly harassed her. “I don’t know what to do,” Haylee wrote in a Facebook posting to her aunt after that incident. “I’m so sad and feel lonely. I hope I get to be with my friends again soon.”
In a TODAY interview last week with Meredith Vieira, relatives said that the two girls had become withdrawn after the expulsion. But both Fentress and Behnke told Lauer Tuesday that they saw no dramatic change in the girls’ behavior.
“I played it over probably a million times,” Paige’s mother told Lauer. “And there’s nothing. Nothing that she might have did different that I wouldn’t have caught. There was nothing.”
“I think we did everything in our powers to help the girls,” Haylee’s mother added. “I question it every day, 10 times a day.”
Related: Minnesota middle school mourns double suicide
Perhaps, Fentress said, there is a lesson that can be drawn from the tragedy. “I hope that the school will implement some kind of program to teach the kids about this stuff. The harassment between girls at this age is horrible.”
But for now, all the grieving mothers can do is read the messages that their daughters left behind after the April 16 sleepover date at Haylee’s house that ended with their deaths. The notes offer no explanation, both women said — only a glimpse at the kind and loving nature of the girls themselves.
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Paige’s message was direct, her mother said. “She wanted us all to know that she was very sorry and she never meant to hurt anybody,” Behnke told Lauer. “She just wanted us to know that she loved us.”Video: Cyberbullying played role in suicides, moms say (on this page)
And in her note, Haylee wrote, “Thank you for giving me an amazing life and I’m sorry for doing this to you and I love you,” Fentress said.
And for Fentress, that simple, tender statement posed the most painful and perhaps most unanswerable question of all: Why?
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