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Internet video shows Heights student attacking another

  • The Wichita Eagle
  • Published Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013, at 6:52 p.m.

A video taken in a hallway between classes at Heights High School – and posted on YouTube – shows a 15-year-old girl repeatedly punching another girl in the head until a staff member rushes in and separates them.

The 15-year-old victim, who ended up on her back on the floor after being pummeled for about 15 seconds Monday morning, reportedly suffered a concussion and bruises from her head down.

To school district officials and the mother of the girl attacked, it appeared that whoever took the video knew the attack was coming, positioned a cellphone to record it, and posted it on the Internet for what the mother calls “sick” entertainment purposes.

“It’s gut-wrenching to watch your kid being thrown around by their head,” said the mother, who asked not to be identified to protect her daughter’s privacy.

“It wasn’t until later that we got the video, and I was completely devastated. That’s my child,” she said. “My kids are not fighters, and to see her so helpless and unprotected … that’s just devastating, and to know I was not there to protect her,” she said, sobbing.

Her daughter fears she will be attacked again. “She’s terrified to go back to school,” the mother said.

And her daughter is embarrassed. When the 15-year-old returned to school Tuesday, she saw other kids pulling up the video on their phones and snickering, her mother said.

Police and school district officials say it’s hard to say how many school confrontations end up being posted on the Internet, but they said the potential for such videos exists because so many students have their cellphones out, shooting anything that happens.

Monday’s incident shows how cellphones can be a catalyst for violence, the mother said. As it is, she said, it appears that some students are “planning and plotting these fights,” to be posted on the Internet. “It’s sick,” she said.

A simple Web search shows a number of accounts around the nation of students videotaping confrontations at school and posting them, and sometimes getting disciplined for doing it.

Debbie McKenna, the school district’s executive director for safety services, said, “I think the mere fact that it was videotaped and put on YouTube says it was for entertainment purposes.”

The cellphone camera and audio captured the two girls talking face to face for about 10 seconds before the one girl threw the first punch.

The situation “tells us it was pre-planned,” McKenna said.

Each time someone pulls up the video, it re-victimizes, McKenna said. Parents need to talk with their children about responsible use of the Internet, she said.

The mother said the family is pursuing charges against the other 15-year-old girl, and police Lt. Doug Nolte said it is being investigated as a misdemeanor battery or simple assault. It will be up to prosecutors who handle juvenile cases whether to file a charge against the girl. She also faces a hearing with the school district to determine whether she will be expelled, district spokeswoman Susan Arensman said. Any student who hits another gets an automatic five-day suspension before an expulsion hearing, Arensman said. A confrontation doesn’t necessarily lead to an expulsion; it depends on how serious it is, she said.

The video will definitely be considered evidence in the case, Nolte said. At this point, police have only one suspect, he said – the girl who threw the punches. But the school district could discipline other students who might have helped incite the attack, said McKenna, the school safety official.

A voice can be heard on the video, saying, “Just hit that ….,” and an instant later, the girl starts striking the other girl in the face. The audio captures smacking sounds the blows made and laughter of students watching.

The two teens reportedly had problems with each other, through text messages a few days before the hallway incident, Nolte said. The mother said the texting was one-way, from the other teen.

Whatever words the two girls might have had, the mother said, “It doesn’t matter what you say. There is never a reason to put your hands on anyone else.”

The mother said, “The school is doing everything they possibly can now.” But she faulted some school staff for not intervening sooner when her daughter went to them for advice about how to deal with the other girl. Her daughter was on her way, with a permission slip, to an assistant principal’s office to talk about the problem when the attack occurred, the mother said.

Arensman said she couldn’t comment on what school staff might have known before the incident.

McKenna said there can be a fine line between bullying, where the staff needs to be involved, and a less-serious issue between students, where they can resolve it themselves.

Although school staff are out in hallways between classes, incidents like Monday’s are difficult to prevent because they happen so quickly and because the teens who plot them are deceptive, McKenna said.

“That’s a really hard thing to patrol,” McKenna said.

Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or tpotter@wichitaeagle.com.

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