It started as a summertime joke by a Pinckney Community High School freshman, a push on the "send" button of a camera cell phone delivering a nude photo of herself to a couple of her girlfriends.
But once school started, the picture apparently was circulated to a couple of hundred other students in the school and to some in neighboring schools. Livingston County sheriff's investigators and the county prosecutor's office say they are reviewing whether to file pornography charges against those who disseminated the image or still may have it.
Investigators say they believe the girl intended for only two or three friends to see the picture, which shows explicit nudity and includes her face.
"I have no comment!" the 14-year-old's mother sobbed into the phone when contacted by the Free Press on Wednesday.
The girl didn't think through the repercussions, said Jeanne Reck of Hamburg Township, the mother of one of the girl's good friends.
"Kids do stupid things," Reck said. "But for it to go through the entire school like these girls let it out, they really wanted to do damage to her. It's a tough situation."
Principal Jim Darga found an anonymous note and a copy of the picture on his desk Oct. 7. Pinckney Community Schools Superintendent Dan Danosky said the Sheriff's Department was contacted and officials turned over phones confiscated during a school investigation.
Detective Lt. Todd Luzod said the department's investigation actually began in September after a teacher mentioned the photo to an officer who was visiting the school. The county Sheriff's Department has just under a dozen cell phones and is asking students who received the photo to turn over their cell phones or, at least, delete it.
"They could just erase it," Livingston County Prosecutor David Morse said Wednesday, comparing the photo to unsolicited junk mail. "You can't prohibit something from coming to you in the mail. But it's what you do with it once you receive it."
Those who keep the photo or send it along to others are committing a crime, Morse said.
The Sheriff's Department has a deputy trained in computer forensics gathering evidence from the confiscated phones for Morse's review.
He said cell phones that were confiscated with the picture will not be returned unless the owner pays for a computer forensics expert to verify the photo has been erased from the phone's memory permanently.
"They're out a phone, yes. We won't and can't give them back because it contains illegal material," Morse said, acknowledging the prohibitive cost of having an expert clear the phone. "It would be cheaper to buy a new phone."
Despite being subjected to verbal teasing and some derogatory comments at school since the photo got out, the girl was in school Wednesday and attended the homecoming dance Saturday.
"She's absolutely not letting it ruin the rest of her year, as hard as that is," Reck said.
The problem, Reck said, is teens have become desensitized to sexually inappropriate material. "I think it basically goes down to our society. It's in every movie, every song, on MTV, and they're kind of complacent about it. They don't have a lot of understanding of what they're doing."
In a letter sent home Wednesday, the school advised parents to check their children's cell phones for the inappropriate photo and talk with them about the dangers of sending pictures or personal information, Danosky said.
"The advent of the electronic age has brought with it conveniences and capabilities unimaginable even 10 years ago," he wrote. "This incident raises the issue of what can parents do to prevent their son or daughter from making a bad decision, potentially with serious consequences."
District policy says cell phones need to be turned off during school. But the superintendent said he faces a discipline dilemma if the students e-mailed the picture while not in school.
"If a kid says, 'I didn't do it here,' then what do you discipline them for?" Danosky said.
Danosky said he's waiting on the outcome of the Sheriff's Department investigation to determine what disciplinary action he might take or what changes to recommend to the district's policy about cell phones.
In a past case in which a middle school student sent out naked photos of herself, punishment the juvenile court issued was aimed at educating the student about the dangers involved in what she had done, Morse said.
Regardless of whether charges are filed, Luzod, the sheriff's lieutenant, said he hopes students realize the seriousness of texting inappropriate pictures.
"The darn picture could be nationwide," he said. "Hopefully, people will learn from this."