Brandy Vela, 18, healed the animals in her household — bandaging injured cat paws and splinting a broken foot for a backyard chicken.
This was going to be a great year for Brandy, a high school senior, who wanted to be a veterinarian.
She had found her first apartment right across the street from College of the Mainland, where she was going take veterinary medicine classes. The family planned a big barbecue party at their house for her Texas City High School graduation in the spring. She was lining up grants and scholarships.
But Brandy killed herself Nov. 29. She shot herself in the chest at the family home in the 6100 block of Allen Avenue in Texas City, police said.
Her suicide followed a year of cyberbullying, her father, Raul Vela, said.
“Bullies are killers,” Vela said. “They torture someone to death.”
A Galveston County grand jury in March indicted Andres Arturo Villagomez, 21, and Karinthya Sanchez Romero, 22, both of Galveston, in connection with Brandy’s death.
Villagomez, who police said once dated Brandy, was charged with a misdemeanor under the state’s “revenge porn” law. Revenge porn is the sexually explicit portrayal of one or more people that’s distributed without their consent through any medium.
Romero, who police said is now dating Villagomez, was charged with two felonies alleging she stalked and harassed Brandy for months and impersonated her in fake online profiles.
Raul Vela said he went to police three different times to report the online abuse and relentless harassment. But the police told him they couldn’t do anything because the online abuse did not cause bodily injury, he said.
That always made Brandy cry, Raul Vela said.
“The law’s not going to do anything,” Brandy told him each time, he said. He bought his three daughters cans of mace and stun guns to protect themselves, he said.
The connection between cyberbullying and suicide is being taken up by the Texas Legislature. This session, state Sen. Jose Menendez and state Rep. Ina Minjarez filed “David’s Law,” which would require school districts to have cyberbullying policies and requires them to notify parents when children are bullied.
The law is named after David Molak, a 16-year-old Alamo Heights High School student who killed himself in January, hours after receiving a group text harassing him about his physical appearance.
The law would make electronically harassing or bullying anyone under the age of 18 through text messages, social media, websites and apps a misdemeanor offense.
Brandy’s sister, Michelle Vela, recently testified in Austin in support of the legislation.
Michelle Vela, 16, sees bullying all the time at Texas City High School, and nothing is done about it, she said.
“Ever since this happened, we have had a lot of guest speakers at school who say, ‘Speak up,’” Michelle Vela said.
But no one speaks up, she said.
At lunch one day, a bully harassed another student and tried to make him move from where he was sitting, she said.
“I stood up for him,” Michelle said. “They look at me like I’m strange.”
Supervisors in the cafeteria didn’t say anything, but Michelle thought they saw what happened, she said.
“Maybe they weren’t paying attention,” she said.
Michelle also has seen bullies in classrooms and thinks the teachers are afraid of those students, she said.
Michelle had been interested in studying to be a nurse, she said. Now she’s thinking about pursuing a career in criminal justice.
“We need more people in criminal justice,” she said. “Who else is going to catch these bad people?”