Illustration by Max Fleishman

Mother of murdered boy believes her son’s killers are harassing her online

The barrage of online hatred has made her afraid to leave her house


Lyz Lenz


Published Aug 15, 2016   Updated May 26, 2021, 6:25 am CDT

When the mother of a murdered 2-year-old begins getting trolled on Twitter more than 20 years after her son’s death, where does she turn for help and comfort? In the case of Denise Fergus, she tells her story in the most public of forums. 

In 1993, two 10-year-old boys, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, were convicted of the abduction, torture, and murder of 2-year-old James Bulger. Thompson and Venables were released in 2001 and given new identities.

In a recent interview, Fergus—more than two decades after her little boy was killed—said she believes the now grown men are harassing her online. She told the UK’s Channel 5 news that whenever her son’s name is mentioned in the news, she is bombarded by trolls who often compete to see who is mentioned in the newspaper. This barrage of harassment has left Fergus and her husband paranoid.

“I sometimes think, ‘Is it a member of their family or could it be them? Because they could easily get in touch with me.

“They’ve been told not to … but what’s to stop them writing to me on social media and pretending to be somebody else?

“It’s really scary and the thought often goes through my mind it could be one of them.”

In July, Chloe Cowan was convicted of trolling Fergus, sentenced to three years in jail, and given a 10-year-ban barring her from contact with Bulger’s family. During sentencing, Fergus noted that Cowan’s attacks made her afraid to leave her home. Addressing Cowan, she said, “This is mental cruelty, and you shouldn’t be able to write this and get away with it. It is just pure cruel.”

Trolling on Twitter is an ongoing problem, and Fergus has criticized it for not doing enough to combat trolling. Recently, comedian Leslie Jones and writer Jessica Valenti have left the social media site due to the constant stream of harassment.

And last week, BuzzFeed published a report on Twitter’s “10 year failure to address harassment,” which quoted a former senior employee as stating, “Seriously, if you were an alien and you came down to look at this thing, you’d say, ‘Oh, the product was basically built for maximum ease of trolling.’ Like, they must have built this for trolls.”

In Fergus’s case, she’s not even sure who’s doing the trolling. 

“It is time Twitter made it a priority to close down trolls,” Fergus said, via the Daily Star. “They can’t just wash their hands of it.” 

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*First Published: Aug 15, 2016, 1:40 pm CDT