A Pennsylvania woman is accused of doctoring photos and videos of her daughter’s cheerleading teammates in an attempt to get them kicked off the squad, NBC Philadelphia reports. This monthslong harassment effort included creating and anonymously circulating digitally altered photos of at least three underage girls smoking, drinking, and nude, and urging them to “kill yourself,” according to a criminal complaint. The woman, Raffaela Spone, 50, is now facing three misdemeanor counts of cyber harassment of a child and related offenses.
The Hilltown Township Police Department began looking into the case in July 2020 after being approached by a woman whose daughter cheered for the Victory Vipers squad in Chalfont. The mother told authorities that her daughter was being harassed by a blocked number that was sending her images taken from her social-media accounts, edited to look like the underage girl was naked and drinking. Per an affidavit of probable cause, Spone also sent multiple messages to the cheerleading gym, including a video of the girl, manipulated to make it appear as if the girl was vaping — behavior that could’ve gotten her kicked off the team.
Amid the investigation, two more families came forward with similar stories. Eventually, police determined that the photos and videos were digitally altered deep fakes, per the affidavit, and traced the messages to Spone. On March 4, Spone was arrested; on March 10, the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office charged her with three misdemeanor counts of cyber harassment of a child and related offenses.
Per court records, there’s no sign that Spone’s daughter was aware of her mother’s alleged actions. Local authorities also have yet to publicly name a motivation, though the alleged victims and their families say the harassment began after the girls had a falling-out with Spone’s daughter. But still, as a father of one of the underage girls told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “I don’t know what would push her to this point.”
One of the alleged victims, a 17-year-old who says she received messages urging her to kill herself, told a local ABC affiliate, “I do get hate comments — nothing to this extreme, but I was really upset,” she said. “I was like, ‘Who says this to someone? Who thinks it’s okay?’ It made me more mad than upset.”
Spone’s attorney, Robert Birch, told a local outlet his client “has absolutely denied what they’re charging her with.” Birch then went on to decry his client’s situation, claiming she has “received death threats” and that “her life has been turned upside down” ever since this case garnered media coverage. Spone’s next scheduled court appearance is a preliminary hearing on March 30.