MIAMI The six teenage girls accused of beating a classmate and filming the attack for the Internet made their first court appearance Friday, looking down and occasionally covering their faces with their hands and hair to avoid a gaggle of cameras.
The six girls were seen by the judge via video uplink from the jail where they were being held. They and two male classmates were charged as adults with battery and kidnapping in the March 30 attack in Lakeland, a lower-middle-class town in Central Florida.
The girls' sudden display of shame like the order against talking to the news media that Judge Angela Cowden placed on local officials could hardly offset the case's mutation into a media juggernaut.
The beating left 16-year-old Victoria Lindsay, a cheerleader, with a concussion and two black eyes. The combination of violence, girls, video and criticism of the Web seems to have made the case a magnet for attention and outrage.
Since the teenagers were arrested just over a week ago, Fox News, CBS, MSNBC, CNN and NBC's "Today" show have focused on the incident, with anchors often describing how hard the beating was to watch, even as clips of the attack played over and over on screen.
The Internet, in particular, has become the preferred outlet for comment.
On Friday, six of the 20 most-viewed videos on YouTube were related to the attack. Outtakes of interviews with the parents of the victim and the attackers have been posted alongside news segments, parodies and hundreds of responses by YouTube viewers.
A few of the amateur rants have attracted more than 700,000 viewers each, and thousands of written comments.
One of the most popular responses, by Philip DeFranco, denounces the teenagers for ganging up on the victim, calls vaguely for vigilante vengeance and addresses the irony of the girls' getting the attention they wished for. "Yeah the video has gone viral," he said in his video response, "except I don't know if they can see it from jail."
Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd released three minutes of the videotaped beating, which went on for roughly half an hour. Before the gag order stopped him from doing interviews, he said the attack might have been retaliation for comments Lindsay posted on her MySpace page about some of the other girls.
By his account, the eight teenagers under arrest Mercades Nichols, 17; April Cooper, 14; Brittini Hardcastle, 17; Kayla Hassell, 15; Brittany Mayes, 17; Cara Murphy, 16; Zachary Ashley, 17; and Stephen Schumaker, 18 were not initially remorseful. He said he hoped that the attention the case had drawn would raise awareness about the Internet's power to desensitize young people to violence.
The victim's parents have taken a similar line. "For whatever reason, this MySpace, my-you, this YouTube has gone too far," said Talisa Lindsay, in an interview outside their home. "It's just too much."
Her husband, Patrick, who stood beside her, went even further, declaring that Internet companies were to blame for what happened. "As far as I'm concerned," he said, "MySpace is the Antichrist for children."
Such sentiments and counterarguments appear to be what has made the Lakeland incident so riveting. The Lindsays' interview was YouTube's 15th-most-popular item on Friday afternoon, up from 18th a few hours earlier. And the 1,800-plus comments generally followed a similar line: "its not about youtube and myspace!! its about those 8 freakin' teenagers!!"
Other bullying cases, of course, have also drawn national interest. In 2003, a group of girls outside Chicago filmed themselves attacking a girl in a hazing incident that found its way to the Oprah Winfrey show. More recently, attention focused on Billy Wolfe, a frequently bullied Arkansas teenager who was the subject of an article in The New York Times. One of those attacks was captured on a cell phone camera.
In the Florida case though, the authorities say the attackers intended to use the attack to become Internet celebrities.
But if they are released on bail set Friday at a minimum of $30,000 each they may not get a chance to see the see the attack on the Web, or discuss it. Cowden ordered them to have no contact with one another, and definitely no Internet allowed.