What word comes to mind when thinking about what happened in New Boston last week, when a 14-year-old high school freshman hanged herself the day before testifying in court about her alleged rape? Tragic.
What caused such a young soul to abruptly end dreams of college, family, travel and hope by ending her existence?
When I heard about the chain of events that played out thoughout this scenario, it became clear to me Samantha Kelly was the last person to blame for her early departure.
From what’s been reported, the Huron High School student was set to testify on Nov. 9 against Joseph Tarnopolski, an 18-year-old senior. She never made it.
On Nov. 8, her brother found her dead in their mobile home with the date her and Tarnopolski allegedly had sex written on a note nearby.
According to The News Herald of Southgate, the parties had agreed to a confidentiality agreement with prosecutors and Tarnopolski was to be charged with statutory rape. In Michigan, the law states a person must be at least 16 years old for sex to be consensual — Tarnopolski never denied the two had sex. However, after the girl’s mother, June Justice, found out about the sexual encounter, she decided to thrust her daughter into the spotlight of WJBK Fox Channel 2.
Suddenly, with cameras rolling, Kelly said the young man forced himself upon her, which didn’t match up with the statement she gave prosecutors. Text messages would confirm it appeared the sex was consensual (with the exception of the Michigan law part).
I had two questions at this point: What would possess the mother of a 14-year-old alleged rape victim to thrust the child into the media – first local, then national spotlight? And could Fox 2 and its editors have approached this more delicately and with better judgment?
First, why did Justice run to Fox 2 after the parties signed the confidentiality agreement? She stated students at school were harassing her daughter. However, accounts from the school say the bullying began only after the media interview. The mother blamed – and still does – Huron High officials for not protecting her daughter.
The principal escorted Kelly to classes and gave her special privileges to come and go as she needed. I’m not sure what more could have been done. After all, since Tarnopolski’s court date was Nov. 9, he was considered innocent.
If the district denied this young man an education or punished him in some way, would that not possibly bring a lawsuit? Unfortunately, I can see the lawsuit warriors circling Huron High. Besides, Kelly and Tarnopolski had sex in Tarnopolski’s home, just a few doors down from Kelly’s. What role did the school have in that? Justice should ask herself.
What about Fox 2 and its staff’s role? According to The Herald, township investigators told Fox 2 not to air the broadcast because the testimony did not match sworn statements. They also wanted to protect the child’s identity. Apparently, better judgment and warnings need not be heeded. Ratings are king in broadcast.
I guess journalistic standards don’t pay the bills. But who’s calling these guys journalists anyway?
Since this story broke I’ve heard several friends ask why charges were dropped against Tarnopolski, and I wondered the same.
Then I remembered the only evidence was Kelly’s testimony. And in our country, the
defendant has a right to question his or her accuser.
In any case, whether you blame the mother for tossing her daughter into the spotlight, the media for being careless or Tarnopolski for taking advantage of her, Samantha Kelly will never reach adulthood, or even age of consent for that matter. Tragic indeed.