In the past few weeks, Sheila Pott has been called a bad mother who should have known better, who must have ignored the warning signs before her beautiful, playful 15-year-old daughter Audrie killed herself.

"I've already been to the worst place in my life," Sheila Pott said in an exclusive interview Monday. "There's not much that can hurt me now."

There was also no way to prepare for the onslaught of attention after Audrie's parents came forward this month with the painful story behind her death -- a story echoing across the country, when teens mix alcohol, sex and cyberspace.

After drinking too much and passing out at a house party last Labor Day weekend, the Saratoga High sophomore awoke to crude messages scribbled on her body and her shorts pulled down. The humiliation spiraled when she learned a cellphone photo was circulating around campus. A week later, she was dead.

The publicity has taken a toll on Pott, Audrie's father, Larry Pott, and stepmother, Lisa. They're not sleeping well. Larry Pott can barely speak about it without choking up.

"We're almost worse than day one," he said. When their daughter was taken off life support and died on Sept. 12, their grief was shared among their family and close friends. "Now," he said, "it's the entire world."

During an interview in their lawyer's office Monday, they discussed their decision to go public with what they called an all-too-often "silent crime" whose victims are too embarrassed to come forward. They shared their anger at what they fear will be minor consequences for the three boys charged in her assault and insisted how, no matter the rumors, there was nothing else in Audrie's life that would have caused her to kill herself.

"She had no more teen drama than I did," Lisa Pott said. "She was not depressed, she was not on medication. She was playing baseball with her dad last month. She got straight A's at summer school."

Audrie, they said, loved hiking, playing soccer and taking Zumba classes. In late August, the week before the fateful Labor Day weekend party, she dressed up with her girlfriends as "Power Puff Girls."

Both Larry and Sheila Pott are successful business people, he in the security business and she in the mortgage industry. They shared custody of Audrie. Larry and Lisa Pott have three young children together. Audrie's parents decided to come forward earlier this month during a news conference packed with national media, revealing her name and releasing her photos in hopes that someone like her will be spared her humiliating and ultimately tragic ordeal.

The 16-year-old boys face charges of sexual assault and distributing child pornography, but the Potts fear that because they are juveniles, they will get little more than probation. They want legislation to increase penalties against juveniles accused of these crimes, they said, and at the very least have those found guilty to register as sex offenders. The family has filed a wrongful-death lawsuit to hold the boys and their families accountable.

"It became obvious if we didn't go all the way, nothing would come of this," Larry Pott said. "We're stepping up to defend Audrie."

Lawyers for the boys, who aren't being named because of their ages, say it is unfair to link Audrie's suicide to the boys' actions. That statement enraged the Pott family, who after Audrie's death discovered a string of Facebook messages Audrie had written expressing her despair that "everybody knows" what happened to her and "my life is ruined." In interviews with police, one of the boys admitted at least two of them touched Audrie sexually.

In Monday's 90-minute interview, the Potts discussed what they perceive as a conspiracy of silence among some students and parents, a lack of support from the school district that refused to expel the boys and ongoing problems Audrie endured with a wide circle of friends at Saratoga High.

Sheila Pott said she got the feeling that they were more concerned about the image of their school and the upscale community than what happened to their daughter.

It's as if, she said, people believe "Oh my God, if we get a bad reputation, our property values will go down. It's that shallow."

The parents acknowledged that Audrie endured ongoing problems with some of her friends, which prompted all three parents to meet with school counselors late last year.

"She was picked on because she was pretty, because she was popular, because she was nice," Larry Pott said. "It was, you're not as good as you appear to be. We're going to drag you down a bit.''

Sheila Pott is still tortured by what she might have missed before her daughter's death.

"I have gone through every conversation we had in the two weeks prior, looking for signs. I just didn't see them," she said. "We had long talks over dinner. The night before she asked about going to college and majoring in art. She talked about what kind of wedding dress she wanted."

When she drove her home on Monday from school, and she could see Audrie was upset, she asked what's wrong, but Audrie wouldn't say.

"When I see her face in the media I try to focus on the fact that she was beautiful and happy," Sheila said. "Something positive has to come from her death."

Contact Julia Prodis Sulek at 408-278-3409.