Karlie Hay gave her first interview this morning, talking exclusively with Good Morning America.
"I'm very sorry. It's embarrassing. It's something I'm ashamed of. I've grown up from that 15-year-old girl that used that type of language. It's never acceptable and now I know how hurtful that is. It hurts me to know that at one point in my life I used that language," Hay told GMA.
Hay is a Tomball native. She was just crowned Miss Teen USA over the weekend, soon after a fire storm erupted.
Screen grabs of old tweets show Hay using the "N" word. Hay sent the tweets two or three years ago.
"At that age I was being a follower, trying to fit in with my friends. The word was thrown around and the music I listened to and the friends I hung out with and I had no guidance," said Hey.
After the tweets resurfaced, Hay apologized on Twitter saying the comments do not reflect who she is today.
"She should definitely be able to keep the crown. I think the controversy and the unwanted attention is unfortunately spoiling her moment, but also proving to be a valuable life lesson, not only for her but for other young women, young men," explained Amanda Perry, Miss Houston 1999, and a former pageant coach. She was not involved in the current Miss Teen USA competition, but she would always tell competitors their appearance matters not only in person, but online.
"A lot of young women don't take that into respect of like, oh what I say now at the age of 13, 14, 15 could come back in the future. They don't understand the weight of their words," she said.
A social media expert said you can clean up your act online, but what you post may always live on.
"Screen shots gives it some permanent life no matter if you tweet it, alter it, post it again with new language, screen shots change the way we are able to store tweets," explained Ashley Small, of Medley Inc. She helps companies create their social media presence, but there are things you can do to clean up yours.
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"There are several different apps that allow you to automatically delete tweets you put out several years ago. You can do a power search and search for keywords to delete tweets," she said.
Even if you delete your entire archive or individual posts, there's always the chance someone has already seen or saved it, she said.
In a statement obtained Sunday by Eyewitness News, The Miss Universe Organization, which oversees Miss Teen USA, called Hay's language "unacceptable at any age," but noted that "was in a different place in her life and made a serious mistake she regrets and for which she sincerely apologizes."
"We as an organization are committed to supporting her continued growth," the statement concludes.
The NAACP's Houston branch also issued a statement concerning the controversy surrounding Hay:
Since our founding over 107 years ago, the NAACP has remained steadfast in our mission to eliminate racial prejudice wherever it exists in our society. As such, the NAACP condemns the use of the "N" word in every instance and is disappointed to learn of its use by our local Miss Texas Teen USA and newly crowned Miss Teen USA, Karlie Hay.
NAACP Houston Branch President James Douglas states: "While we are encouraged that Miss Hay has acknowledged her use of the N-word, it demonstrates that race is still a tremendous issue in our country today; and it is not only being used by older people but young people as well, and it is further perpetuated by the environment in which they are raised in. Our concern is not just about the N-word itself; but the racist attitude behind the word. We must understand that the N-word is a reflection of a racist attitude and that we first must change our attitudes."
Hay, of Tomball, Texas, says she will use her platform to advocate for those affected by drug and alcohol abuse. Hay did not return any of Eyewitness News' requests for comment, but she posted a series of tweets in which she admitted using language she is "not proud of" and that "there is no excuse for." She also added that she is a better person today thanks to education, hard work and the "sisterhood" of pageants.