Texas City police are investigating whether cyberbullying played a role in the death Tuesday of an 18-year-old high school student.
Brandy Vela, of Texas City, shot herself in the chest Tuesday at a home in the 6100 block of Allen Avenue in Texas City, police said.
Emergency responders were called to the home at 1:41 p.m. and Vela was taken to Clear Lake Regional Medical Center, where she was pronounced dead.
At a gathering of friends and family Wednesday night, Vela’s father said his daughter worked as a waitress at Landry’s Seafood in Galveston and had dreams of becoming a veterinarian. She had planned to move into a new apartment this week.
“She was doing what every parent would want their daughter to do,” Raul Vela said.
Brandy Vela’s friends and family left notes, cards and candles in the bedroom of the house where she died.
Earlier in the day, her friends at Texas City High School wore blue hearts on their clothes in remembrance of her.
The color was her favorite and matched her eyes, her father said.
The Texas City Police Department broke from its usual protocol regarding suicide victims and identified Vela in a news release Wednesday.
Detectives were investigating claims by Vela’s relatives that she had been bullied before her death, police spokesman Capt. Joe Stanton said.
“This is a criminal investigation,” Stanton said.
Vela was a senior at Texas City High School, Texas City School District Spokeswoman Melissa Tortorici said.
The district Wednesday was preparing to send a letter to parents about Vela’s death and was making grief counselors available to students for the remainder of the week.
“We’re grieving for Brandy and are very sympathetic to her friends and family,” Tortorici said.
“We also are very concerned about our students and how they’re handling this tragedy.”
Police did not release any details about what the alleged bullying might have entailed.
Tortorici said Vela had talked to a school administrator about a series of harassing, anonymous text messages she had received before the Thanksgiving break.
“Our deputy investigated it and the app that was being used to send the messages was untraceable,” Tortorici said. “We encouraged her to change her phone number.”
She was not sure whether Vela did change her phone number.
Police asked anyone with information about Vela’s death to contact detectives at 409-643-5833 or Mainland Communities Crime Stoppers at 409-945-8477. The Crime Stoppers line is anonymous.
On Wednesday night, Raul Vela described a yearlong harassment campaign that her daughter suffered through, involving fake Facebook profiles and social media posts that advertised illicit activities using his daughter’s phone numbers.
Brandy Vela changed her number multiple times, but the harassment followed, her father said.
She reported the harassment to police multiple times, but was left with little recourse because the people behind it were anonymous, he said.
“Maybe I was approaching it the wrong way,” Raul Vela said. “They couldn’t do anything about it.”
Raul Vela said he planned to speak to detectives today.
Police are investigating the bullying under a part of the state’s computer crimes code. The law does not specifically prohibit cyberbullying or harassment, but does ban online impersonation that is done “to harm, defraud, intimidate or threaten any person.”
Depending on the extent of the bullying, such a crime could be considered a misdemeanor or a felony, Stanton said.
The connection between cyberbullying and suicide is also being taken up by the Texas Legislature. Earlier this month, 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.