(CBS) Seven-year-old Kathleen Edward knows what it's like to die from Huntington's Disease. Last year, the debilitating disorder, which progressively destroys the mind and control of the body, took her mother's life.
Kathleen has it too.
But the disease is not her only nemesis. Kathleen is also the victim of a horrifying cyberbullying attack and the perpetrator is a 33-year-old neighbor, Jennifer Petkov.
Petkov admitted to WJBK News in Detroit that she had posted ghoulish art work of the child on her Facebook page. The picture showed the Kathleen's face - eyes closed and tongue lolling out - with a pair of crossed bones beneath it.
Petkov also admitted to posting a Photoshopped image of Kathleen's mother cradled by the Grim Reaper.
When asked why she did it, Petkov sounded a lot like a high school mean girl. "Personal satisfaction," she told the station. "Because it rubs their a-s raw."
"Cyberbullying gives people the opportunity to be more aggressive than they would allow themselves to be in person," Dr. Samuelle Klein-Von Reiche, a clinical psychologist in private practice in Manhattan, tells CBS News. "There is a weaker sense of personal responsibility. You don't have to confront someone directly."
Still, there had been plenty of public confrontation in the past. Police said they visited the two homes on several occasions, as the families had been feuding for years.
More recently, neighbors in Trenton, Mich., told the local news station that Petkov and her husband decorated their pickup to look like a hearse, strapped a homemade coffin on top, and drove it back and forth in front of the home Kathleen shares with her father and step mother. Petkov said it was just a Halloween prank.
The origins of the dispute are unclear, but that seems less important than the question of why, and how, a person could be so cruel?
Dr. Klein-Von Reiche, who can't comment on this specific case, says there are several possible explanations for why an adult would bully a child.
"People who believe that cruelty is an acceptable means to channel interpersonal conflict, often suffer from severe narcissism with an antisocial element," she says.
In addition, she adds, we live in a media culture where over-the-top drama, including vicious fighting on reality TV, is pervasive. "For someone who already has questionable judgment," she says, "that only reinforces the idea that extreme mental cruelty is acceptable."
The Edward family now has a restraining order against the Petkovs, and the neighborhood has banded together in support of the little girl. A Facebook group, "We Love You Kathleen," has almost 4,000 members. A toy store in Ann Arbor raised $9,000 for a shopping spree, according to WJBK.
Petkov and her husband have made a public apology and dismantled the coffin on top of the "hearse." Small favors for a girl who faces a disease without cure.
According to the Mayo Clinic, Huntington's is "a progressive, degenerative disease that causes certain nerve cells in your brain to waste away." The result is uncontrolled movements, mental disturbances, and death. Symptoms usually develop in middle age. It is rare for children to show sings of the genetic disorder, but it can progress faster if they do.
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