Christine and David McComas’s daughter, Grace, was “a happy, bubbly kid” with “a contagious sense of humor.” She had strong networks of support — both family and friends — to rely on when a neighborhood bully began harassing her in person and online. The McComas family “did everything [they] were supposed to do” when their daughter began feeling threatened by an older classmate. But after real-life bullying transitioned to cyber-attacks and in-school gossip, the distress became too much for Grace to bear. The 15 year-old killed herself last Easter Sunday, and now her parents are fighting to pass Maryland HB 396, nicknamed “Grace’s Law,” to prevent other families from going through similar heartache.
As Grace’s bullying escalated, the McComases contacted the police, the state’s attorney, and the Howard County court system, only to learn that there was little action they could take. In order for Grace’s school to handle the situation, they required that Grace file an official form. For months, Grace refused — when she had told her parents about the harassment, the bully had only escalated his tactics, and she feared that an official school report would do the same. When she finally did report the threats to the school, the administration decided that the bully should serve a 10-day at-home suspension — in the neighborhood where both he and Grace lived.
After Grace’s death, the family was inspired to “make changes in her name,” according to Christine. To that end, they’ve worked with Del. Jon Cardin on HB 396, nicknamed “Grace’s Law,” which would ban harassment on social media platforms and punish cyberbullying of a minor with a year in jail and a $500 fine. Maryland currently has anti-bullying laws that cover electronic harassment, but they don’t include criminal sanctions or account for bullying that happens off school grounds (like cyberbullying). The current laws leave it up to individual schools to establish policy for punishment, something that Grace’s Law would change. “If it can happen to her it can happen to anybody,” Grace’s mother, Christine, told Loyola Magazine. “The horror of it is it should happen to no one.”