“I was the class vice president. I was in the school’s student spirit organization. I was in ASB. I was in debate. I was on the varsity tennis team. I was heavily, heavily involved in the school,” Tori Paller said during a phone interview recently.
According to Paller, all that changed when she tried to expose a Vista Murrieta High School-based racist group chat titled “Superior.” She shared the screenshots she found with friends and administrators which led to her being bullied and eventually leaving the school for online learning.
Along with screenshots showing graphic and threatening language, Paller shared her story in a social media post in early June, sparking a firestorm online.
“I showed these messages to people as I didn’t know what to do and immediately received threats from the people in the group chat and their parents,” she said in her online post. “I got called crazy and eventually had to switch to online school.
“And when I tried to out them, they covered it up and silenced me. The BBC (Bronco Bleacher Creatures) adviser and football coaches at Vista Murrieta High School played a part in covering it up when it began to spread,” she said. “VMHS itself is disgusting for how they handled this. I know exactly all the people who supported them through this. And don’t think I’m afraid to name names. I was torn to shreds for trying to bring this to light and all the supporters of these racists who defended them and stood by them deserve as much backlash.”
Shortly after the posts hit social media, MVUSD announced they were launching an investigation into Paller’s allegations of a cover-up and hired Best, Best & Krieger to investigate.
The investigation is ongoing, and a series of questions sent to the district and their hired representative Tom DeLapp of Communications Resources for Schools regarding the timeline of the investigation and when the results will be made public have gone unanswered for more than a week.
The district is also mired in school reopening plans surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, but consistent requests from Valley News for interviews with superintendent Patrick Kelley and MVUSD school board members regarding how the district will handle the results have also gone unanswered.
Paller decided to do an interview with Valley News after weeks of conversation and waiting for her interview with BBK’s lawyer to take place.
Looking back, she said it’s still frustrating for her that despite her attempts to talk about the group chat with friends and administrators, she was shut down at the time. That’s why, she said, everything that has taken place in the weeks since she posted the screenshots is surprising to her.
“I definitely was pretty outspoken about my opinions at the time,” Paller said. “I’m pretty progressive in that aspect. I tried to associate with people I felt had similar viewpoints. I shared these messages with them and the fact that they didn’t care and they were just like, ‘Yeah, you just need to drop it; it’s not that big of a deal,’ led me to kind of believe, well maybe my perspective of things is kind of warped and this isn’t as bad as I thought though. Maybe it shouldn’t be as big of a deal. That’s why I wasn’t expecting this to all happen because the people I looked up to, those that were progressive didn’t even care. I just never thought anything would come out of it.”
Paller said back in 2015 since she shared the screenshots with friends and school officials, she knew the images were out there in the public. But it wasn’t until someone shared her images five years later that she decided to make a statement on social media.
“I logged on to my Instagram, and this girl had posted them all to her account and I was super confused,” Paller said. “I was like, ‘Oh, those are my screenshots. How did this person even get ahold of them?’”
The girl who posted them said she got them from another guy on Twitter who posted them, but some of the details were out of context, Paller said.
“It kind of goes to show you like how far they were traveling with nothing happening four or five years down the road,” she said. “Some kid who isn’t even a friend of a friend is out posting them and sitting on that kind of thing. It’s just kind of been sitting in people’s camera rolls.”
To clear things up, Paller said she decided to post them and give context.
When asked whether she was contacted by any of the young men identified in the group chat, she said none of them contacted her directly.
“Initially I heard from (omitted) friends, people decided to message me and say that I was a bad person for posting them and I need to leave him alone,” Paller said. “And at one point, I guess, (omitted) got on one of the guys’ phones and said, ‘You need to stop saying all this stuff.’ And then (omitted) later on also messaged me on Twitter. He sent me, not even an apology, he basically just gaslit me by saying that a lot of the stuff I said wasn’t true and I need to stop trying to ruin his life because he is just trying to bring like peace and love into the world.
“It was pretty ridiculous,” Paller said.
One of the other young men involved in the chat did reach out to her to apologize, though Paller said he wasn’t as much to blame for the bullying she received after initially exposing the group chat back in 2015.
None of the others have reached out, she said.
“A lot of them, what they’re doing is just separating themselves, being like, ‘This is just my past self, I’ve grown and worked on it.’ And no, you haven’t,” Paller said. “Because over the past five years, none of you have reached out to try to right your wrongs and say, you’re sorry for what you did. It’s always been really obvious how bad they ruined my life in all of this. None of them have reached out to make an apology. It’s just more the response to being caught is the reaction right now.”
One of the young men involved in the group chat was Taylor Daniel, son of former VMHS principal and current MVUSD assistant superintendent of human resources, Darren Daniel, who issued an apology statement along with his son through MVUSD email channels.
“I am in absolute disbelief about this post,” Darren Daniel said in the email. “Apparently, this was done while he was in high school, and my wife and I just learned of this today. My heart is broken. We are ashamed as a family and sad about the destructive and dehumanizing message by our son. The emotion elicited by these images is overwhelming, and I am so sorry you and others were subjected to this by him. This behavior is inexcusable, and I am at a loss for words as we do not condone these ideals. I am ashamed, embarrassed and confused about this.”
Paller was confused by the statement, doubting that Darren Daniel had no idea what his son was up to at the time, saying Taylor was texting and messaging her about the screenshots back in 2015.
“I think that’s like the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” she said. “Your son is going through a massive scandal and the way that (Taylor) was messaging me, he was obviously very, very scared. How would your staff not know about that?”
Paller also questioned how so many people seemed to know about the situation at the time, having told her school counselor about it, but allegedly nobody else knew, including principal Mick Wager who issued a statement as well, denying knowledge of the incident.
Back in 2015 when the initial situation jumped off, Paller admitted she was conflicted about finding the chat, dealing with an ex-boyfriend who was part of the chat and a flood of texts and messages being sent to her, most of which were degrading or threatening.
“I finally just called my mom, and my mom was like, ‘OK, you’re going to get killed by like one of these football players with these things that they’re saying,’” Paller said. “‘We just need to take you out of school.’ We set up a meeting for the following Monday with (my counselor) and we went in and I said, ‘School is just getting really bad. I can’t stand to be here anymore because of this whole group chat.’ And he said, ‘Yeah, I’ve heard about that.’
“He didn’t respond to it or attempt to say, ‘OK, who are these boys? Let’s pursue this.’ He didn’t even ask like for a record of what the messages were, because these were obviously violent threats that should be a public safety concern in the same way that we’ve had cops show up at kids’ houses because they tweeted something suspicious or their friends tweeted something stupid. The fact that this wasn’t taken seriously by the administration was extremely weird to me because it was direct, obvious violent threats, which they had made a point of cracking down on with other students.”
Paller finished school as a home-schooled student and is now in college. She said she isn’t sure how to feel about the actions taking place now within the district, from moving administrators into different positions to the investigation itself.
“I have this side of me who is an activist for change and is very excited to see that they’re like going about implementing new things, not that they’re doing everything perfectly,” Paller said. “I’ve seen talk of certain things being in place, different people being hired, different people being let go. I am excited for that, but as someone who was basically crucified, not that long ago for attempting to get this out, I haven’t had any of the administration reach out to me with an apology. There’s been no talk directly of how this affected me, how a certain student basically had to sacrifice themselves for this to happen. I’ve only had like teachers who I never even had any interaction with, reach out to me on Instagram, to thank me and say that they appreciate me doing this.
“It just like really disappoints me. I don’t feel, personally, that (the school) is embarrassed by their actions. They’re doing actually more of a like rapid, hurried thing so they aren’t questioned about it again. I don’t think that they’re actually considering that there are real people who were truly affected by this because, one, I haven’t gotten an apology, and two, I don’t feel like there’s been like a public apology to minorities and the students that they weren’t keeping safe.
“So many people have come forward in this to share examples of racism and sexism and assault that has been either ignored by the school or facilitated by the school. The school, I feel like it’s somehow avoiding fault by not directly acknowledging all these students and the students they have been permanently traumatized,” Paller said.
Jeff Pack can be reached by email at email@example.com.