In the modern age, it’s almost impossible to lose track of someone for any substantial amount of time. Between GPS tracking, checking in on Facebook, and Instagram pictures, it’s easy to know where someone is and what they’re doing nearly every minute of their day.
But what happens when that security blanket that we’ve created for ourselves is suddenly torn off and our child does disappear? What happens when the darkest theory in our imagination comes true? And what happens if ultimately, we could have prevented it all along?
Can’t Reach Her
Angela Saifer was facing a common worry. Despite the fact that her teenage daughter was constantly on her phone, she couldn’t seem to get in touch with her. She assumed that perhaps she was out with her friends, maybe at a movie or in a place with bad service. But when hours passed without a word, she thought perhaps something might be wrong.
15-year-old Brazilian teen, Karina Saifer Oliveira, lived in a small town about 500 miles from São Paulo. According to all outward appearances, she was a typical teenager. She was smart, talented, and had a dream to study law. What her mother and stepfather never realized though, was that Karina was hiding a secret…
Lunch with Stepdad
Earlier that afternoon, Karina sent her mother a message on WhatsApp that she had gone out to lunch with her stepfather. She seemed slightly distant but nothing more than that. Neither he nor his wife had any idea that anything might be up, nor that she might be hiding anything. That was the last time either of them spoke to her that day.
She had also asked her mother if she could go work on something after school, which of course Angela agreed to. It wasn’t until late in the afternoon that her mother began to worry. “I asked where she was and she didn’t answer after that,” explains her mother. “Then I got a little worried, but I thought she’d gone out…”
Angela worked at a sugar factory and got home late in the evening only to find no sign of her daughter in the house. She went into her room and saw her cell phone lying on the bed, her WhatsApp messages unanswered. It wasn’t like her teenage daughter, or any teenager for that matter, to leave the house without her phone…
Her mother began to walk around the house calling for Karina. While she was waiting for a reply, she noticed the door to the backyard was open. Had someone broken into the home and taken her daughter? She ran to the backyard and the sight that greeted her there caused her heart to drop into the very pit of her stomach. There, on the back porch, was her daughter’s dead body…
Angela couldn’t believe what had happened and when the police arrived and told them that she had killed herself, it only raised more questions. Her stepfather, 47-year-old Aparecido Oliveira soon arrived and together, the two of them decided to look on her phone to see if it had any clues about why Karina had taken her own life.
As it turned out, Karina’s reasons for suicide lay in an epidemic of sorts that to some may seem commonplace, and to others, speaks to a serious lapse in judgement on the part of parents and school administrators everywhere. Before her death, Karina Oliveira was bullied by her high school classmates. But not just bullied, according to her WhatsApp chat logs, she’d been tormented at school and out of school for over a year…
“She was really tormented at school,” explains her father. “After she died, we saw messages from students on her WhatsApp, hateful ones, from students teasing her about her hair because it was half-afro, because she used a hair straightener. They’d been sending them for over a year.” Indeed, biracial Karina had been bullied by her classmates for her appearance, to the point where she felt her only way out was suicide.
“She didn’t like her hair because people kept criticizing her about it. That’s racism,” added Aparecido Oliveira. Racism is deeply rooted in Brazilian society and is punishable by imprisonment if uncovered. At the same time, bullying too is a large problem in the country. And if bullying by classmates wasn’t enough, Karina had also been bullied by someone she cared about…
A year before her untimely death, when she was a mere 14-year-old, Karina had been involved in a sexual relationship with an older man. The boyfriend was a 17-year-old, three years older and much more experienced that Karina. When they broke up, he decided to take some revenge on the naive schoolgirl.
According to some rumors, though the police are still investigating the validity of them, the ex-boyfriend posted some rather intimate photos of the 15-year-old on the internet after the breakup. Still, even if the pictures didn’t exist, the mere threat that he had released those intimate pictures to the world, was clearly enough to drive an already delicate girl deeper into depression…
Not Your Fault
Her father, who knew of the pictures but told her not to worry about it, recalls a conversation he’d had with his daughter following the revelation. “Two months ago, she came to talk to me, saying that she was feeling like a trashy person because this had happened to her. I said it didn’t have anything to do with her…I only found out what had happened after the guy was no longer living in our town.”
Still, Aparecido understood that his daughter was struggling, he just didn’t know how much. He had even planned to move with her to another city. Her mother on the other hand, didn’t notice any signs that would indicate that Karina was unhappy. To her, she was just the sweet girl she’d always been. Affectionate, caring, and always ready to help out. Obviously they both underestimated the extent of her sorrow, and so did her school…
Indeed, it wasn’t until after a student came forward a couple of weeks before Karina’s death that the school finally intervened. The classmate had told the principal that Karina had tried to poison herself at school. They called her father, but he was on vacation. So instead they simply spoke to her and told her not to take what the bullies said personally: to let it go. That tactic obviously worked well.
The school principal, Acácio Sampaio, came forward revealing that he was aware Karina looked sad and “had a distant look” but didn’t think anything of it. He certainly didn’t know she was being bullied to the extent she was. “We didn’t know what was going on….” he explained. As if Karina’s death wasn’t enough, her parents were about to get more grim news of their daughter…
Karina’s story soon spread like wildfire. In no time at all the 50,000 residents of Nova Andradina, including all 900 students in her school, knew what had happened to the girl. Many were outraged at the school’s inaction when it came to seeing the warning signs, many more were ashamed that they themselves hadn’t noticed and done anything to help.
Sadly, Karina’s story didn’t end with her suicide. Soon after her death, one of her sisters received a strange text message in a WhatsApp group. It was a photo of her sister Karina, only it wasn’t of her exactly, it was of her corpse: taken at the scene of the suicide. But how could anyone have gotten that picture…unless they had been to the house before their mother?
Karina’s mother tried to go over the day in her head. “I keep asking myself who could have leaked those photos. No strangers went in there. The only ones who went in the house were the crime scene expert and the police.” This meant that someone from the police department had gotten the pic and released it without permission.
An autopsy report has yet to determine the exact manner of Karina’s death, but the crime of instigating suicide is a very real thing. Unfortunately, the manner of that particular situation would be a direct-cause type of thing. In the meantime, her parents want not only justice for their daughter, but also for the grave indecency done to their family in their time of grief. This, like many stories of a similar type, is a lesson in the importance of communicating with your children…before it’s too late.