STUDIO CITY (CBSLA.com) — The family of an 18-year-old girl who died in a car accident nearly six years ago in Orange County continues to be haunted by gruesome photos of the crash that were posted online.
Nikki Catsouras was killed on Oct. 31, 2006 after speeding 100 miles per hour in her father's Porsche and clipping another car on the 241 Toll Road.
Her mother, Lesli, said she knew her daughter wouldn't come home alive that afternoon after she watched Nikki take the car keys and run out of the house.
"I tried to stop her, I couldn't," she said.
Lesli said Nikki was having a "psychotic episode."
"It could have been the beginning of schizophrenia. We were going to find out that day. The day of the accident, she had an appointment at 3 p.m. to see a neuropsychiatrist," she said.
Neither Nikki nor her parents had the opportunity to figure out what was wrong with her.
Instead, the family was left to deal with Nikki's tragic death, which went viral after a California Highway Patrol dispatcher released graphic photos of the collision.
"Three weeks after the accident, it was on 35 websites," said Nikki's father, Christos. "January of 2007 was when it was on thousands of websites."
Lesli said, "Every day we'd get another phone call…somebody else saw them…neighbors were seeing these photographs, kids in the neighborhood, kids from Nikki's school."
The couple said they begged the CHP to help remove the photos, but claimed the agency didn't do enough.
The family sued and eventually won a $2.3 million settlement, but millions of people on the Internet had already viewed and commented on the pictures.
In one anonymous post after another, Lesli said bloggers added insult to incredible loss.
The family was forced to read comments like, "It's her own fault she's dead", "She got what she deserved" and "So a spoiled little (expletive) stole her daddy's Porsche."
Those weren't the messages, however, that compelled Lesli to write a book on cyberbullying called, "Forever Exposed: The Nikki Catsouras Story."
It was deranged comments like, "I was so happy! I raped her corpse."
Some people even wrote about masturbating to the horrific pictures.
"That killed me, it destroyed me," said Lesli.
No matter what the family did to avoid the photos, bullies found a way to post them.
Christos said he saw pictures of the accident in an email disguised as a business link.
"When I clicked on it, it said, 'Daddy, I'm alive.' That's how I first saw the pictures and what was attached to it," he said.
Two of Nikki's three sisters were so haunted by online threats to put up the pictures at the girls' school, they asked to be homeschooled.
The girls also don't have Facebook accounts out of fear of being cyberbullied.
Lesli said she hopes her new book sends a strong message to parents and their children.
"When you torment someone online, you don't see what you've done to them. I want them to see what they've done to us," she said. "Parents need to talk to their kids...they need to teach them not to be bullies."
Christos said, "I bet when those guys sent out those pictures, I bet they didn't think, in a million years, it would do what it did to our family. It's ripped us apart. Just by hitting send."
For more information on Lesli's book, visit Forever Exposed.
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