A teenage boy who serves as an anti-bullying spokesman has first-hand experience with bullies: He used to be one.
“We judged her by her pictures without even knowing who she really was,” Tyler Gregory told TODAY. “Her feelings weren't on our minds at all.”
The victim, Elizabeth Chenoweth, had befriended Tyler’s best friend, Scott Hannah, though they went to different high schools in central Ohio. Scott told TODAY that his friends were jealous.
The group viciously attacked Elizabeth online, through text messages and over the phone. She said they told her that she was ugly and a looked like a troll. “I felt like all my self-confidence was ripped out,” she told TODAY.
One girl even got on the phone and told Eliza, as she’s also called, that she should kill herself. “I wanted to give up so bad,” she said.
Tyler's mom saw some of his Facebook postings about Elizabeth and was horrified. She told him to stop. "I was devastated," Melanie Gregory said. "I was like, 'What am I doing wrong? Why is he doing this?'"
Scott, meanwhile, lost Eliza as a friend. “She said she never wanted to speak to me again,” he said.
Last year, though, the death a 14-year-old New York boy, Jamey Rodemeyer, who committed suicide after being bullied, resonated with Scott and Tyler.
“His death really touched me because it really could be anyone,” Scott said. “And the Eliza situation clicked when I heard that.”
Scott and Tyler produced a video to raise awareness of bullying that they hope will help put a stop to teens victimizing their peers. Tyler and Scott have become spokesmen for “The Great American No Bull Challenge."
They initially kept their history with Eliza a secret, but apologized to her last month.
“It’s wrong,” Tyler says, “how you're putting other people down to lift yourself up. And we found that lifting people up lifts us up even more than putting people down.”
Elizabeth has put the issue behind her and was recently nominated to her school’s junior homecoming court. “I’m on top of the world,” she said. “Nothing can bring me down now.”
Actress and activist Marlo Thomas, who brought the teens’ story to TODAY on Thursday, announced a campaign called “Be More Than a Bystander,” saying that most kids are neither bullies nor victims but are bystanders who can do something.
“You have to take it seriously as a family issue,” she said. “The best thing we can do now is to get the bystander. That’s really the focus of this campaign, and say ‘You can do something about it.’”
About 80 percent of kids see someone get bullied at least once a week but don’t know what to do, Thomas said, adding that parents don’t talk with their kids enough about bullying.
Parents should teach their children that if they see bullying in action, they should try to remove the other child from the situation, tell a trusted parent or teacher, don’t give the bully a captive audience and try to welcome kids who are being bullied.
“When you see a child is being bullied at school, include them,” Thomas told TODAY’s Savannah Guthrie. “Smile at them. Be kind to them. Because they feel isolated and being isolated is what’s really so tortuous for them.”