Social media. We use it to get to know people and tell our stories. We interact with our loved ones, and reach out to new acquaintances who we just met over the weekend. Some however, use the power of social media to spew out hatred and venom. For 19-year old Minnesota native, Alyssa Funke, those two parts of the internet collided after it was revealed that the young woman had appeared in an amateur pornography shoot. Within days of the revelation, former classmates from her high school alma mater, Stillwater High School, hounded the beautiful, straight A-student relentlessly. This is the Alyssa Funke story.
A Rocky Beginning to Life
Like many childhoods, Alyssa Funke’s childhood was not without its problems. Her biological father, Rashad Bowman, had long been absent from the scene, and had amassed an impressive rap sheet for theft and swindling schemes over the years. At the time of Alyssa’s death, he was serving time in an Arizona prison for a 2001 fraud conviction. Additionally, her mother, Melissa Funke, and her current boyfriend, had popped up onto the radar of police authorities for suspicion of drug dealing and neglecting Alyssa’s nine younger siblings.
Alyssa Funke, a freshman student at University of Wisconsin at River Falls, had suffered from depression for years according to family and friends. Her father’s latest incarceration was a particularly rough time in the Alyssa Funke story. Father and daughter initially attempted to stay in contact using audio tapes, but that didn’t last long before communication was ended and she slipped deeper into depression.
Beautiful, vivacious, witty, and smart, Alyssa belied the stereotypes of a bullying victim. The fact remains however, for years she had been the target of insults and barbs from jealous schoolmates and acquaintances. Family dislocations and patterns of bullying appear to be at the heart of her lifelong depression, which ended in her death by her own hand after her brief stint as an adult actor came to light.
Social Media Hints
As mentioned, Alyssa was active on social media and her postings in the months leading up to the tragedy mirrored those of many girls her age. Speculation about past boyfriends, future careers, and daily hopes punctuated most of her postings on FaceBook. Like many such postings, they are often vague and indistinct, but with the gift of 20/20 hindsight, glimmers of unhappiness can be gleaned from her words.
Her FaceBook postings of late 2013 and early 2014 were indicative of a recent breakup. For instance, a January 5, 2014 posting read, “I like being single. I’m always there when I need me.” Another missive, dated more than a month later opines, “When your ex won’t leave you be. You know you’ve done something right.”
This is the standard, social media fare that we have become accustomed to seeing on our own FaceBook feeds as angst-out friends and family similarly navigate through these difficult life challenges. Buried deeper in the posts however, Alyssa Funke’s pain and alienation can be traced.
A January 5, 2014 interaction began with a friend asking her what happened to her. Her puzzled response to her friend’s query engendered the following post:
“You changed a lot. You used to care about your old friends, and now you don’t even know who we are.” He complained.
Perhaps it was the recent breakup, or her father’s long incarceration that prompted her answer, but her response provides a glimpse into her mind frame at the time:
“You know what? Yes, I have changed. I am not as nice as I used to be because I don’t want to get used and walked over. I do not trust everyone because behind every fake smile is a backstabbing bitch. I distance myself from people because in the end, they are only going to leave. I have changed because I have realized that I’m the only person I can depend on.”
After asserting her need for distance, Alyssa Funke softened her stance by saying, “But I’m sorry. I care…a lot, and I’ll change that.” Later in the thread, she notes that it was not her intention to alienate them, but that she was working towards bridging that gap. She asks for patience with the admission that the “fixing” takes time.
Las Vegas Road Trip
To all outward signs, it was an impromptu trip. The first inkling came when Alyssa posted to her FaceBook wall, on January 9, that she was “Vegas, t-minus 2 hours.” The next day she snapped a picture of the world famous Vegas strip with a caption reading “Vegas Baaaabyyy!”
Beyond those two postings, she went dark on FaceBook regarding her trip as friends asked follow-up questions of her visit. She never responded to any of them. In the aftermath of her death, her “Vegas Baaaabyy!” thread would fill with charge and countercharge, which hints that perhaps some people knew about Alyssa’s true purpose for going to Sin City.
In fact, at least part of the reason that Alyssa traveled to the Silver State was to try her hand at the pornography business. This foray brought her to an shooting studio of an amateur website called CastingCouch-X.
The video shoot begins with the beautiful, brunette looking into the camera and providing some information about herself.
“I’m Stella Ann. I’m 18, from Minnesota. I want to be a major in biology, minor in chemistry, and I want to be an anesthesiologist.” Alyssa was clearly nervous as she delivered these words. When asked about her childhood, she replied in a flat tonal voice that it was a normal upper-Midwest upbringing.
Her entrée into the world of pornography consisted of a brief 30-minute video shoot, similar to the thousands of girls who make a comparable decision each year. Her decision however, would ratchet up the hazing and bullying that Alyssa had endured for years to the point where she felt she had to take her own life.
Perhaps even more tormenting for those she left behind, her brief stint as an adult film actor has been used, in the months since her death, as a way of minimizing the loss in a reprehensible example of slut shaming by her former high school classmates.
Back in Minnesota
Following her trip to Nevada, the Alyssa Funke story turns inward as her postings to social media slow down. On Feburary 23, 2014, she posted a picture to FaceBook featuring a newly purchased Michael Kors watch. Again, much like her posting announcing her arrival in Vegas, the thread only filled with comments in the aftermath of her death.
For her part, Alyssa’s last posting to FaceBook was on March 4, 2014.
“The people that envy & hate you the most, stalk you on social media the most, so ‘hey, hi, hello, how r u doing?’ This one is for you.”
Whatever pressures she was feeling since returning home were obviously delivered to her ear from other than her FaceBook wall. Perhaps it was a whisper campaign engineered to cut in this small Midwestern town, or maybe her private message boxed was filled to capacity. Whichever method was used to deliver their hate, bullies in her community worked hard to alienate Alyssa, and their actions must be considered culpable to her decision to end her life.
A survey of the responses, in the aforementioned thread, suggests that the bullies were few in number, and like most bullies, they hid their actions until after the girl’s death before showing their true colors. Two bullies in particular, going by the FaceBook handles, Ivan Josh T. Nicolas and Austin Buck Simms, were particularly vitriolic in their responses to her death.
Alyssa’s last FaceBook comment elicited only two public responses before her death; but has grown to almost 2,500 comments since her death. Nicolas and Simms comments hint at what the girl went through prior to her death.
“We have no respect for whores who do pornos.” Opined Simms.
“Glad she killed herself,” says Nicolas in an August 9 posting. “We don’t need another weak human being slowing everyone else down because of silly internet comments she took to heart.”
Anyone not familiar with an internet troll fight might get lost in the wash of charge and countercharge. Hundreds of postings expressed support for the family and regret for their loss, but the underlying feeling that one is left with is that this tragedy could have been easily avoided.
The Final Chapter in the Alyssa Funke Story
As mentioned, this outpouring of public debate emerged only after she died. On the day she decided to kill herself, Alyssa was living in her own private hell caused by bullies and haters. Her final messages of that day came in the form of a text to her mom and a couple of Twitter messages.
Her first tweet announced “pornstar status, a-okay” while the second noted that she was “famous for dayzzz.” Not everything was a-okay, however. Around the same time, she sent a text to her mom stating, “I don’t want to be here anymore. I want to die.”
A quick phone call alleviated her mom’s immediate concerns, but following that conversation, Alyssa went to a nearby Sears store, bought a 12-guage shotgun, and drove to the shores of Big Carnelian Lake. Her family owned a boat there, and according to police reports, the distraught girl boarded the boat before taking her own life
The authorities have largely written Alyssa off. Police continue to investigate, but they don’t believe that cyber bullies were to blame for her suicide. Likewise, administrators at Stillwater High School deferred censure by pointing out that Alyssa, having graduated the year before, was no longer under their charge.
The ease in which authorities have dismissed the suicide of a “sex worker” speaks volumes regarding how far this nation needs to move in the fight against slut shaming, bullying, and cyber bullying that is so prevalent in this country.