Attorney: School was ‘on-notice’ of previous altercations in classroom before 10-year-old’s death

Published: Apr. 1, 2019 at 8:12 PM EDT
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WALTERBORO, SC (WCSC) - The father of 10-year-old RaNiya Wright and his attorneys gathered in Walterboro Monday morning to plead for the school district and sheriff’s office to release more information surrounding the case.

Attorney Mark Peper also stated that the school was aware of other, “altercations” in the classroom where the fight involving RaNiya Wright happened, adding his team has spoken to the teacher that was in the classroom that day.

“It’s been made pretty clear to us that there has been a pattern of behavior over the last really four or five years," Peper said. "Some may reference it as bullying, I’m a little hesitant to label it as that at this point in time. But again, it would be fair to say that the school was on notice that there were some altercations occurring on a very regular basis between individuals in this specific classroom.”

Jermaine Van Dyke, RaNiya Wright’s father, also spoke briefly at the press conference.

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“I’m here today just looking for justice for my daughter and I’m looking to just to find out what happened, how it happened and who was involved, that’s really it,” he said.

Peper said that on the day of the fight, Van Dyke found out his daughter had been involved in an “incident” at the school and needed to get to Colleton County Medical Center. He added that when Van Dyke arrived, RaNiya had already been airlifted to MUSC.

“(The school district has said) nothing. Absolutely nothing,” Peper said. “We’ve been extremely disappointed in our multiple attempts to contact both law enforcement and the school district. We heard late Friday evening from the attorney for the school district who was brought on board. Unfortunately he didn’t have many answers. And that through no fault of his own the superintendent and the district has failed to provide any."

RaNiya Wright’s mother Ashley and Van Dyke have decided to hire separate legal counsel. Peper said Van Dyke was, “extremely involved” in RaNiya’s life.

“I think there have been some innuendos that there is some bridge between the family,” Peper said when asked the last time Van Dyke saw RaNiya was. “I’m here to tell you that’s not the case at all. They’ve decided to hire separate counsel which they have every right to do but I can assure you that Ms. Wright’s counsel and our team have been in constant communication. We are forming one unified front because we are here to seek justice for the daughter."

On Friday, attorneys representing Wright’s mother called for transparency as the family waits for answers to several questions about what unfolded in the classroom.

Late Friday afternoon, Colleton County Sheriff R.A. Strickland and 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone said test results from Friday morning’s autopsy aren’t expected to be in for several weeks and declined to comment on any specifics of the case. Stone said was too early to determine whether any criminal charges will be filed in Wright’s death.

Deputies responded to the school Monday after what school district officials described as a fight in the classroom. An incident report said Wright was unconscious but breathing at a nurse’s station. She was airlifted from the school to MUSC in Charleston where she died at 9:39 a.m. Wednesday.

The Colleton County Coroner’s Office has not yet released a cause or manner of death.

Though rumors about bullying being involved in the fight have been spread on social media, there has been no official acknowledgement from the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office or the school district that bullying played a role in the fight.

“It’s important we recognize children face various issues on a daily basis when it comes to schools…and oftentimes bullying helps exacerbate some of those issues," Rep. Marvin Pendarvis said. " It’s incumbent upon us as officials and people and families to make sure we are doing everything we can to protect our children to ensure they are getting the attention they deserve in the schools also within their communities and our home. Bullying is real. We have to recognize and we have to do something about it.”

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