COLUMBIA, SC (AP/WCSC) - A South Carolina state senator who represents the area where a fifth grader died after an elementary school fight last week says it was only a small scuffle.
Sen. Margie Bright Matthews said on the Senate floor Tuesday that RaNiya Wright was not kicked or attacked by several students. The Democrat says the 10-year-old didn’t bang her head in the March 25 fight at Forest Hills Elementary School in Walterboro.
Bright Matthews said a substitute teacher was on duty that day and that the incident initially appeared to be a “simple back and forth” between two young girls.
The substitute teacher intervened and sent one student into the hallway.
"Luckily the assistant principal was right down the hallway," she said. "He came in and escorted both girls to the principal's office. They were still going back and forth with them with their mouths, from what I have been able to discern. The principal put both of the girls in his office and one of them complained of her head hurting."
Bright Matthews said the evidence shows she was taken “steps away” to the nurse’s station where became nauseated, vomited and lost consciousness.
An incident report from the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office said EMS responded to the school’s nurse’s station where Wright was unresponsive but breathing. Crews airlifted her to MUSC where she died Wednesday morning.
She said no one was kicking the girl and that she did not bang her head, details that have been the subject of rumors since the fight happened.
Bright Matthews says she has spoken to Wright’s grandmother as well as school and law enforcement officials.
Attorneys representing RaNiya Wright’s mother released a statement saying that they were “disappointed” with what Matthews had to say.
“To say that we are disappointed that Senator Matthews would use the South Carolina Senate as the backdrop for her statements less than 24 hours before Raniya Wright is laid to rest is disheartening and deeply regrettable,” read a statement by the Pizarro Law Firm who represents Ashley Wright. “Every official investigating this incident from the Colleton County Sheriff’s Department to the 14th Circuit Solicitor’s Office to the Colleton County Coroner has stated that this is an ongoing investigation that would likely take weeks to complete.”
Wright’s lawyers say even though they have been made privy to additional information about the incident, they would not provide a statement concerning that information until the investigation is complete.
“We will continue to respect the investigative process and wait for findings as opposed to using the most prominent platform in our great state to offer a premature and incomplete narrative,” lawyers said.
A spokesperson for the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office said Tuesday afternoon the agency is not ready to respond to the senator’s comments.
Attorney Mark Peper, who is representing Wright’s Father, issued a statement Tuesday afternoon in response to Bright Matthews’ comments on the senate floor.
“I’m glad that Sen. Matthews has been able to at least find out some relevant information because no one from the Sheriff’s Office has bothered to call the father of RaNiya,” Peper said.
Late Tuesday afternoon, the Colleton County School District reacted to Bright Matthews’ comments.
“We realize and appreciate that people want to know exactly what happened in this incident," district spokesman Sean Gruber said. "However it is important for us as a school district to make sure that the Colleton County Sheriff Office’s thorough investigation relying on all of the facts available is concluded before we comment publicly. Now is the time for our community to mourn the loss of a child. The facts of this tragedy will become clearer in the weeks ahead.”
At a news confrence Monday morning, Jermaine Van Dyke, the father of RaNiya Wright said he was looking for justice for his daughter.
"I’m looking to just to find out what happened, how it happened and who was involved, that’s really it,” he said.
Peper also stated that the school was aware of other, “altercations” in the classroom where the fight involving Wright happened, adding his team has spoken to the teacher that was in the classroom that day.
At a news conference on Friday, the 14th Circuit Solicitor and the Colleton County sheriff issued brief statements on the investigation but provided no details.
An autopsy was performed on Wright Friday morning but said complete results could take weeks to come in.
Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone said that after the results of tests performed during the autopsy are complete and the investigation is finished, they will first share the results with Wright’s family and then with the public.
“We do not have a timetable for the conclusion of this investigation,” Sheriff R.A. Strickland said. “We expect some aspects to take several weeks. We will do whatever is necessary and take as much time as necessary to ensure a thorough investigation. We will disclose our findings and all test results at the appropriate time.”
The Colleton Count School District Board spoke after meeting in executive session Thursday to hear details of the investigation from deputies.
School District Board Chairman Tim Mabry read a prepared statement after the board came out of executive session.
“The district is cooperating fully with the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office as they continue their investigation,” he said in part. "We understand that this is an emotional and difficult time for out community. Our board and district have received multiple requests for information. Due to the ongoing investigation and student privacy laws, we cannot share specific details at this time. Out of respect for our families and the integrity of this investigation, we request that the public remain patient and focused on supporting this community during this time of tragedy.”
Colleton County School District Superintendent Dr. Franklin Fuller also made brief remarks, extending condolences to the family and asking for the community’s help “in preventing the spread of rumors and speculations.”
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.