BY ROBERT L. BAKER
Wyoming County Press Examiner
A mother and daughter at the center of a sexting controversy that brought unwanted attention to Tunkhannock Area High School over the past decade will take center stage once again as their story is retold tonight on Lifetime Television.
Marissa Miller was a 15-year-old student at Tunkhannock when she attracted public outcry for getting pregnant, and then when a sexting scandal enveloped about 20 students at the school she again became a focal point, because she and her mom knew the teen was no child pornographer.
Airing at 10 tonight, the seventh episode of ‘My Life is a Lifetime Movie’ has been billed as “a determined mother who took on a small town to save her daughter’s reputation when she gets dragged into a sexting scandal.”
Enter Mary Jo Miller, a one-time teacher at Tunkhannock Area who has the patience to work with learning support students but initially feels betrayed when her daughter lies about the extent of a fling with a school mate two years her senior and can no longer hide her pregnancy.
As if that is not enough, the Lifetime segment opens with a dramatization of an alarming assembly at their high school in which Wyoming County’s former district attorney George Skumanick Jr. warns about the dangers of sexting and then ensnares students who have compromising images on their cell phones.
For 30 years, Lifetime original movies uniquely captured shocking scenarios involving scandal, deception, love gone bad, dark secrets and other unscrupulous behaviors, but what is unique about ‘My Life is a Lifetime Movie,’ publicist Tracy Speed said, is that it allows viewers to hear from real people behind the stories.
The hybrid unscripted series premiered Oct. 17 with the network sending out advance material that it “will weave together highly cinematic recreations and first person interviews with women in peril who recount their jaw-dropping experiences that are so astonishing and so unbelievable, that they must be true.”
The older Miller said Monday night that she was contacted by Lifetime in February, they went to New York City for a week in May, and a filming crew came to Tunkhannock for a week to do some shots.
Although she hardly saw what she went through from 2007 to 2010 as a dress rehearsal for making the big screen, Miller said she and her daughter were grateful to have the opportunity to finally tell their side of the story.
“My daughter was not the slut some people – including some of her schoolmates – made her out to be, and for once the public can see what exactly was at the center of the controversy,” she said.
Noting that she had no idea what was on other students’ cell phones, Miller recalled being told that her daughter had done something wrong. She was told her daughter should just participate in the course the district attorney was proposing and eventually a probation she was facing in the matter would be expunged, and a potential felony charge for disseminating child pornography would just disappear.
“It just didn’t seem right,” Miller recalled, and she insisted on speaking to the DA directly.
She said she was relieved when Skumanick showed her an image taken by a friend of Marissa’s some six months before Marissa even owned a cell phone, in which she and another tween were goofing around in training bras at a slumber party.
“She didn’t take the picture and she didn’t distribute it, and I just couldn’t understand why we were having to go though with this,” Miller said.
“But the reality was that as this all was happening some people think Marissa was taking naked pictures of herself, sending them to boys and she got what she deserved,” Mary Jo added Monday night, “and yes it hurt, I can’t deny that.”
And, then, there were those who were convinced, Mary Jo said, that the only reason she and her daughter were pursuing the case as they were was so they “could get money.”
She said, “We didn’t get a cent from the school district or the county as others did but we were convinced on principle that we were right in standing on our constitutional rights.”
Does she believe that sexting is a problem among young people?
“Let’s be clear. I’m not condoning sexting. We just believe the DA should have handled each individual case as was warranted.”
As a postscript, Miller who still resides in the Tunkhannock area she was raised in, noted that she no longer works for the school district.
She is extremely proud of Marissa, now 19, who has her own apartment and a job and is raising her own three-year-old daughter.
Miller notes that Marissa has been accepted by a couple of local colleges and could be going into nursing or following mom’s foot steps in working with special education students.