5th grader Raniya Wright's father received little information from school district, attorney says
Mark Peper, an attorney representing Van Dyke, said Wright's father had one meeting with the superintendent of the school, but that the meeting didn't really provide any true developments. Elizabeth LaFleur, firstname.lastname@example.org
WALTERBORO – Standing in an empty lot with a memorial to his 10-year-old daughter a few dozen yards behind him, Raniya Wright’s father spoke briefly to media for the first time since her death.
Raniya, a fifth-grader was fatally injured in a fight inside a classroom at Forest Hills Elementary School on March 25. She died in a Charleston hospital on March 27.
“I’m here today looking for justice for my daughter,” Jermaine Van Dyke said with the school as a backdrop.
A handful of security officers escorted Van Dyke to a podium where he spoke only a few words as he stood surrounded by a group of a half-dozen people, including his attorneys and State Representative Marvin Pendarvis of Charleston.
“I wanted just to find out what happened, how it happened and who was involved,” he said.
Van Dyke then stepped back and allowed attorney Mark Peper to take questions. He said Raniya's father had received little-to-no information regarding the case, despite trying to contact the school district and law enforcement.
Peper said Van Dyke had one meeting with the superintendent, but that the meeting didn’t really provide any true developments regarding what actually happened on March 25 or what has happened since.
Peper said Van Dyke first learned of Raniya's injury from his own mother. Peper said by the time Van Dyke arrived at Colleton County Medical Center, Raniya had been taken by medical helicopter to the Medical University of South Carolina Hospital in Charleston.
The school district and law enforcement have not explicitly stated whether a teacher was in the classroom at the time of the fight, but Peper said his team has spoken with a teacher who was in the classroom that day as well as some parents of other students at the school.
"We’re still gathering the results of our investigation," Peper said, "but it’s been made pretty clear to us that there’s been a pattern of behavior over the last, really four or five years."
Peper said he was hesitant to label the fight as bullying while an investigation was ongoing.
"It would be fair to say that the school was on notice that were some altercations occurring on a very regular basis between individuals in this specific classroom," he said.
Peper said Raniya's mother is being represented by a different team of attorneys, but that the two groups are in constant communication as they seek more information.
Another student, a fifth-grader, has been suspended from school. No charges had been filed in the case as of Monday.
The Colleton County School District did not immediately return a phone call Monday or emails asking for comment for this story.
Peper said the most important questions left unanswered are how and why.
Healing is a theme in Walterboro's history.
The town of about 5,000 people was settled in the 1700s by brothers Paul and Jacob Walter who were seeking a place they could bring Paul's daughter during the summer while she suffered from malaria.
Peper reflected on the town's history Monday morning, noting Walterboro was founded as a place to come and heal, and he hopes the community will be able to do so following Raniya's death.
Tyeesha Aiken, of nearby Ruffin, attended Van Dyke’s press conference Monday. She said she wants transparency from the school district.
Ruffin has two children in Colleton County schools. She said she’d been considering homeschooling her son and now plans to make that transition.
"This could have been prevented and that's the most hurtful thing," Aiken said. "As a community, we're going to get through it, but we're going to hold people accountable and we're going to make sure justice is served."
Linda Godwin owns Antiques and Collectibles, located in downtown. She's an Upstate South Carolina native who moved to Walterboro nearly 40 years ago.
Without much information made public, she says rumors are circling the small town.Godwin described her adopted hometown as a quiet town without a lot of traffic and few problems.
"People are fairly close knit here and everybody sort of looks out for each other," she said.
Godwin said she hopes authorities will provide more information soon, because she knows it's hard for people to wait for the details.
"This has been such a shock," Godwin said.
Cindy Corley grew up in Walterboro, raised her children there and now has grandchildren in Walterboro schools.
"We're so sorry that this happened," Corley said. "We don't have the answers yet that we need, but I'm sure the family is the ones that needs the answers first."
She said she believes when people spread rumors about what happened, they're just looking for answers.
Corley said her heart aches for everyone involved and for the community at large.
"Everybody has been affected and there's been a lot of prayers and it's going to take time for healing," Corley said. "Tragedies happen everywhere. When it comes to your front door, it's more real."
"This is just more real for us and I don't think there's anybody who just doesn't cry out for everybody that's involved."
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