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Mother and daughter arrested, charged in assaulting students inside middle school

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Published: May. 19, 2022 at 11:08 AM EDT|Updated: May. 19, 2022 at 8:54 PM EDT
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DALZELL, S.C. (WIS) -A mother and daughter in Sumter County are facing charges after investigators say they assaulted three children on school grounds.

The incident happened Wednesday afternoon at Ebenezer Middle School.

32-year-old Whitley Smith and 67-year-old Mamie Smith were both arrested and charged with assault by mob 3rd degree and disturbing schools.

“This type of behavior is criminal and should never be considered as the appropriate way to deal with matters,” Sumter County Sheriff Anthony Dennis said.

According to the Sumter County Sheriff’s Office, the suspects gained entry into the school under false pretenses.

They buzzed the front door for entry and told staff they had to go to the attendance office. Once they got inside, the suspects ran down the hallway and confronted several students.

The Sheriff’s Office said the Smiths pushed a student against a wall and began hitting her and scratching her in the head and face. Two other students were pushed and hit.

Investigators say that the suspects believed one of their relatives was being bullied, but that they attacked the wrong students.

“Our investigation showed that the students who were viciously attacked were not even the students who these subjects believed had bullied their family member,” Dennis said. “The fact is, the students who were reported as bullying these subject’s family member was actually in the office being dealt with when this attack took place.”

Whitley Smith was sent by EMS to Prisma Health in Sumter. After being medically cleared, she was taken to jail.

One victim was taken by their parents for medical treatment. The other two victims were released to their parents.

Kelsey Ellerbe’s 12-year-old daughter was one of the students assaulted. Ellerbe said when her daughter called her immediately following the incident, she was furious. She said she doesn’t understand why someone would do this.

“I was so mad, and at the moment who would be calm?” Ellerbe said. “In a situation like that, who would be calm?”

Ellerbe said she wants justice for her daughter, and shared a message to the Smiths.

“How would y’all feel if that was your kid being attacked by two grown adults, a 32-year-old and 67-year-old woman?” she said. “How would you feel? As a mom, as a single mother, I’m hurt. I’m hurt by that. My daughter is hurt. She’s traumatized. We didn’t even get sleep. We didn’t much sleep last night thinking about the situation that happened at the school yesterday.”

Ellerbe her daughter is tough, but she broke down in tears last night.

“My baby she’s 12 years old, the other girl she’s 12 years old,” she said. “These are minors and y’all took upon yourselves to react to a situation that could’ve been resolved any other kind of way.”

Ellerbe still has many questions about how the suspects were able to get access to her daughter.

“They need better security because evidently the security wasn’t there, the school officials, where were they?” she said. “Nobody is allowed to go to the back of the school due to COVID. So how were they able to get to the back of the school? That’s my question. How were they able to get past all of that and go down the hall, all the way down the hall and down some more to kids. I don’t get it.”

Sumter School District released a statement in response to the incident, which is attributed to Superintendent Dr. Penelope Martin-Knox.

Sumter School District works diligently to ensure the safety of our students and staff is our number one priority every day. We have safety protocols in place that are adhered to, and we continue to remind staff what those procedures are.  Our expectation is for visitors to be admitted through the outdoor security system after stating their purpose for entry. Based on the information that was shared with the staff, it was described as official business for the visit. This unfortunate situation is deeply disturbing when the intent is not fully disclosed to gain access to children. We will continue to revisit our safety protocols to see if adjustments and modifications need to be made and will do so in an expedient manner where necessary.

This incident serves as a reminder to us all that we must work together to ensure the safety of our academic environment.  We would also like to remind our parents and students that if they are experiencing difficulties, there are supports available to provide them with assistance. School social workers will be available to offer support to students at the school. Together, we can help ensure the safety of our students and staff.”

Both suspects were granted $10,000 surety bonds, $5,000 for each charge. They bonded out of jail Thursday evening.

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