Deputies: Teen's suicide blamed on Snapchat by mom had nothing to do with bullying or social media

Case got worldwide attention, but story was false
Posted at 8:24 PM, Jul 01, 2016
and last updated 2016-07-01 20:24:46-04

The truth is now coming out.

For nearly a month, a mother has been claiming cyberbullies pushed her daughter to take her own life.

But Pasco County investigators say her claims are not true, and finds that the teenagers the mother blamed are not at fault.

15-year-old Tovonna Holton was about to wrap up her freshman year at Wiregrass Ranch High School when she tragically took her own life.

The ABC Action News I-team talked to her family and her best friend shortly after it happened, but their' stories did not match up.

So we held off on reporting about it.

Now the Pasco County Sheriff's Office has released its report, and it says that neither Snapchat nor bullying has anything to do with her death.

“Why? You need to be accountable for whatever you've done,” said Tovanna's mother Lavon Holton-Teamer, choking back tears and begging for authorities to hold Tovonna’s classmates responsible for her suicide.

Her grief spread around the world through the World Wide Web, as Holton-Teamer and family members described how Holton took her own life after her friends humiliated her on Snapchat.

“She was filmed in the nude and then it was uploaded on social media,” said her aunt Angel Scott. “And it just broke her.”

“They had no right to film my baby!” Echoed Holton-Teamer, whose small pink handgun was used in the suicide, according to the police report.

“That had nothing to do with her death. I'm positive about that,” said Tovonna’s best friend Soleil Kouandjio.

Soleil told us, and her mother admits in the police report, that her mother was angry at Tovonna the day she killed herself.

According to her account, Tovonna gave her friend's permission to use a family member's car while her mother and stepfather were out of town and Tovonna's mother was mad about it.

Holton-Teamer says she “slapped Tovonna in the face a couple of times”, according to police.

Solei told investigators  “Her mother grabbed a belt and went into Tovonna’s bedroom and started whipping her with the belt.”

Solei said she couldn’t see it happening, because she was in another room, but says she “could hear the sound of the belt hitting her skin. It sounded like she was hit about fifteen times,” the report said.

Other witnesses confirm the same account.

The police report says Tovonna also sent text messages to her boyfriend shortly before her suicide saying:

“I’m so dead”  and “My mom hates me. I literally (expletive) up everything. I’m such a (expletive) up and I can’t do anything anymore. I’m truly sorry and I’ll always love you.”

Soleil decided to come forward since the family was blaming her and her friends.

She said she did post a video clip of Tovonna on Snapchat, but she says Tovonna was not nude and agreed to post the video.

“I would never do anything to humiliate her or something like that. I would never do anything like that. I loved her so much,” Soleil said.

“It's very unfortunate that these accusations would come out against these students who did nothing wrong,” said Pasco County Schools Spokesperson Linda Cobbe. “And now it looks like they were responsible for this poor child's suicide. “

Pasco County Schools warned local media shortly after Tovonna’s suicide that the district had no record of her ever being bullied, as her mother claimed.  

She said staff members at her school described her as a very friendly, popular young woman.

“I said use caution. Do not move forward with these allegations, wait for the police report to finish before you do this story,” Cobbe said.

Soleil's attorney Jeffrey Brown also sent emails to Tampa Bay media outlets on June 10th, saying in part:

I am aware that the mother and aunt of Tovonna Holton are alleging the narrative that “she (Tovonna) took her life after being filmed nude in the shower by peer students, who then shared and shamed her on Snapchat.” This narrative is untrue and not based on credible facts and is their opinion only…this is not a cyber bullying case. She did not take her life because of any Snapchat video and there was never any shaming. There is ample evidence left by Tovonna to substantiate this and the on-going criminal investigation is well aware of this evidence.  

So, please, do not continue to publish the narrative of cyber bullying because it could end up causing physical and emotional injury to innocent individuals including my client. People are reading and listening to this narrative and sending hate emails because they believe the narrative to be true. It would indeed be tragic if one of these people acted out on these hate emails after reading or listening to your coverage of cyber bullying and then we find out that this is not, and never has been, a case of cyber bullying. 

Solei wants the truth to come out and wants people to know what really happened.

“Everyone loved her. I guess it must have been some family issues,” she said.

The report says the case is administratively closed and no one will face charges in connection with the death.

We reached out to her aunt, Angel Scott, who is representing the family.

Scott says family members are sticking by their story and are still considering possible legal action against Tovonna's Friends.

“I hope this starts a conversation among responsible media… which is better, is it better to be first, or better to be right?” said Cobbe.

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