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, S.C. – In a Lowcountry town haunted by the as-yet unexplained death of fifth-grader Raniya Wright, an investigator broke weeks of silence Thursday to say that the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office is awaiting the results of medical testing and sifting through hours of school video footage before explaining to the public — and even Raniya’s family — exactly what happened to her.
Maj. Jason Chapman, a member of the Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigations Division, said that an autopsy done on Raniya’s body two weeks ago found something — it’s unclear what — that required further analysis. Chapman said the Sheriff’s Office is awaiting the results of a “secondary procedure” before disclosing anything substantial about the case.
He said he hopes to be able to give more information about what happened within the next two weeks.
“There’s lots of rumors about lots of things, and we’ve heard the rumors,” Chapman said in an exclusive interview with The Greenville News and Independent Mail. “We are not going to comment on those. We have heard that everyone has a right to know what happened. I am a parent, and I have a child in that school. I understand that everybody has a want to know. If we put something out prematurely and it turns out to be incomplete, inconsistent or inaccurate, the results of that could be catastrophic.”
“Raniya’s rights have to come first. We owe it to Raniya to do this right.”
Attorney says delay in information on Raniya Wright ‘makes no sense’
Mark Peper, an attorney for Raniya’s father, Jermaine Van Dyke, said Thursday he had heard additional testing is being done on the little girl’s brain. But, Peper said, Raniya’s father still has almost no information about the case, including about the autopsy done at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. Peper said he is left mostly with questions about the little information that has been shared, including questions about why additional testing of Raniya’s body was required.
“The autopsy was done at MUSC, not some random hospital,” Peper said. “The top dogs did the autopsy. “
Peper said the delay in providing information in this case “makes no sense.”
Raniya, 10, died after a fight broke out in a classroom March 25 at Forest Hills Elementary School in Walterboro. A school resource officer is based at the school and was present that day, Chapman said, but the officer was not aware of the fight until a school staff member placed a call for medical assistance.
Emergency medical personnel were called to the school around 1 p.m. and were there within six minutes, Chapman said. Raniya was in the nurse’s station and had collapsed. She was unconscious but breathing, according to an incident report from the Sheriff’s Office. She was ultimately transferred to MUSC by medical helicopter for treatment.
She died at the Charleston hospital March 27.
Another student involved in the fight has been suspended.
How Raniya was injured, whether anyone will face criminal charges, whether she and other students were being properly supervised — those are among questions that remain unanswered.
Raniya’s mother, Ashley Wright, said in an interview with “Good Morning America” that the Colleton County School District failed to protect her young daughter. Wright said she had previously told school officials her daughter was being bullied.
“I’m thinking, ‘They got it handled,’” she said in the interview, “and they failed me.”
A relative at Wright’s home this week said the family needs space and time out of the spotlight. Wright had not responded to a request for an interview as of Thursday night.
Officials from the Colleton County School District have declined to discuss what happened to Raniya, citing an ongoing investigation by law enforcement. A spokesman for the school district said Superintendent Franklin Foster was too busy with other matters to be interviewed.
“We are working on restoring a sense of normalcy,” school district spokesman Sean Gruber said. “We are trying to help our community heal from this.”
‘Classroom processed as crime scene’ in a ‘complex case,’ officer says
Chapman, who has spent more than two decades in law enforcement, said figuring out what happened to Raniya has come with challenges.
“It’s definitely a complex case,” he said. “We had a classroom that was processed as a crime scene.”
That meant sealing off the room and not letting anyone immediately leave, he said. It meant interviewing students and asking 10-year-olds to write witness statements about what they saw.
Chapman said the young students’ initial interviews with law enforcement officials were not captured on video or audio recording. It is a common practice for law enforcement officials to record interviews with witnesses as they are investigating a case.
Investigators are still reviewing hours of video footage captured the day of the fight, Chapman said. From each spot that has a security camera, there are roughly seven hours of footage to view from that day, dozens of hours in total. Cameras are in hallways, a cafeteria and multiple other passageways and so-called “common areas,” though officials haven’t disclosed how many cameras there are at the school.
One place that didn’t have a camera was the classroom where the fight occurred.
Gruber, the school district spokesman, said officials are still hoping for the public’s patience.
“We do care,” he said. “We do care about our community, our students, our staff, our stakeholders. Once the investigation is complete and we can give people the information, we are not going to hold anything back.”
Chapman said officials from the Sheriff’s Office asked school leaders to halt a school district probe of what happened until law enforcement officers complete their investigation. He said one of the goals of that request was to keep witnesses from having to be interviewed by multiple agencies at the same time about the same incident.
Chapman said the Sheriff’s Office has suggested the school district review its policies and procedures while the law enforcement investigation is ongoing. Chapman said the Sheriff’s Office has also suggested that, once the law enforcement investigation is complete, the school district bring in an independent agency to examine what happened and how school officials responded.
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