Three months after Brandy Vela killed herself, police in Texas City arrested two adults they allege harassed, bullied and stalked her during her final days.
Vela, 18, a senior at Texas City High School, shot herself in the chest Nov. 29 in a bedroom of her parents’ Texas City home.
The day after her death, the Texas City Police Department took an unusual step — publicly identifying a suicide victim and announcing they were investigating claims by her family that she had been bullied online for months.
Andres Arturo Villagomez, 21, and Karinthya Sanchez Romero, 22, both of Galveston, were arrested Thursday after they were indicted by a Galveston County grand jury.
Villagomez, who police said once dated Vela, was charged with a misdemeanor under the state’s “revenge porn” law. Romero, who police said is now dating Villagomez, was charged with two felonies alleging she stalked and harassed Vela for months and impersonated her in fake online profiles.
If convicted, the pair each face a year or more in jail. They were both taken into custody Thursday morning.
Brandy Vela’s father, Raul Vela, said the announcement was “really good news.”
“We’re on our way to getting justice for our daughter,” Raul Vela said.
Since Brandy Vela’s suicide, her father had been meeting weekly with investigators to go over new details in the case. He said he did not expect there to be any real development for at least a year.
“I’ve heard about too many people and too many cases where people get away with it,” he said.
In the days after Brandy Vela’s death, her family was very public with her story, and it made national headlines.
Vela’s family said she suffered through a harassment campaign involving fake Facebook profiles and posts that advertised illicit activities using her phone numbers. The people made fun of her weight and lobbied other insults.
Vela changed her telephone number multiple times, but the harassment followed, her family said. When fake Facebook pages were reported, they were removed, but new accounts would appear later.
The fake accounts continued after her death, the family told CNN in December.
Vela reported the harassment to police several times, but was left with little recourse because the people behind it were anonymous, police and her family said.
That changed Thursday, as a result of a monthslong investigation involving the Texas City Police Department, the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Marshals Service.
An indictment was issued Thursday morning after evidence was presented to the grand jury.
Villagomez was charged with unlawful disclosure or promotion of intimate visual material and is being held on a $2,500 bond. The charge is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to $4,000.
Villagomez is accused of posting or threatening to post nude pictures of Vela on the internet without her consent on Nov. 20, days before Vela shot herself, according to criminal complaints obtained by The Daily News,
The law Villagomez is charged under is more commonly known as the “revenge porn” law and is relatively new in Texas. It went into effect Sept. 1, 2015.
The law is meant to prohibit people from posting sexually explicit images of others without consent, even if the pictures were originally shared willingly.
The law was passed after a series of high-profile incidents in which women sued social networks over naked pictures that had appeared online.
Texas is one of 35 states with revenge porn laws.
Romero was charged with stalking with a bond of $10,000 and online impersonation with a bond of $10,000
Stalking and online impersonation are third-degree felonies, each punishable by up to 10 years in jail and $10,000 fines.
Texas doesn’t have a criminal statute against cyberbullying. The stalking law Romero is charged under prohibits conduct that “would cause a reasonable person to … feel harassed, annoyed, alarmed, abused, tormented, embarrassed or offended.”
The online impersonation charge, under the state’s computer crimes code, prohibits creating a Web page on a commercial social networking site or other internet website, with the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate or threaten a person.
The complaint against Romero alleges the harassment took place between Aug. 25, 2016, and Nov. 29, the day Brandy Vela killed herself.
Romero made repeated telephone calls and sent repeated electronic communications intended to harass Vela, the complaint alleges.
Police and prosecutors did not release more details about the allegations Thursday.
Court dates had not been set for either Villagomez or Romero as of late Thursday.