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Rumors about Walterboro, SC, girl’s death ‘so far from the truth,’ senator says

Walterboro citizens hold vigil after 10-year-old girl died

After fifth-grader RaNiya Wright died following a fight at Forest Hill Elementary school, members of the community came together for a vigil.
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After fifth-grader RaNiya Wright died following a fight at Forest Hill Elementary school, members of the community came together for a vigil.

A state senator tried to dispel what she called “speculation” about the death of 5th grader Raniya Wright following an incident at a Colleton County elementary school.

“I heard a lot of people saying, ‘they were kicking her, they ganged her,’” Sen. Margie Bright Matthews said. “That’s so far from the truth.”

At the podium of the State Senate on Tuesday, Bright Matthews, who represents Walterboro and other parts of the South Carolina Lowcounty, described a situation in the school that didn’t involve any blows to the head as rumored, she said.

Raniya died after what officials described as a fight at Forest Hills Elementary. School and public safety officials have stayed mostly quiet about the situation as investigators try to figure out what happened.

Bright Matthews called what happened in the classroom “a simple back and forth between two young girls.”

The back and forth broke out when a substitute teacher was in that class for her first time, Bright Matthews said. The substitute separated the girls and got one into the hall before the assistant principal came and took both girls to the principal’s office.

While in the principal’s office, one girl, presumably Raniya Wright, complained of a pain in her head and was taken to the nurse’s office, according to Bright Matthews.

”She became nauseous, vomited and by the time she was taken to the hospital she was unresponsive,” Bright Matthews said.

Two days after the girl went to the hospital, Bright Matthews said she got a call from Raniya’s grandmother, who said, ”’Oh my god. She’s not responsive. ... My grandbaby’s going to die.’”

Lawyers representing Raniya’s mother, Ashley Wright, released a responding to Bright Matthews’ comments. “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.”

The statement said Bright Matthews’ remarks contained “rumors, conjecture, and innuendo.”

“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,” the statement said.

Bright Matthews called the incident a tragedy for many involved.

“Imagine what the school is feeling, what the teacher . . . is feeling, what the principal is feeling, the assistant principal, the nurse and more importantly the other little girl on the other side,” Bright Matthews said.

Many residents and parents, including Wright’s mother and lawyers, have said bullying played a part in the incident.

Bright Matthews did not directly say whether bullying was a factor. She did say that she’s been asked if she’s going to introduce anti-bullying legislation. “That’s the stupidest thing in the world because you and I both know that children are not born mean,” she said.

Bright Matthews said children aren’t born bullies or born to hate each other.

“I think we got to look at it from what we have control of,” Bright Matthews said.

She took the time to push for smaller class sizes, better policies for special needs students, more breaks for teachers, and placing mental health counselors in school.

“Don’t let young 10-year-old Raniya Wright’s death or public persecution of other folks to go in vain,” Bright Matthews said.

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David Travis Bland won the South Carolina Press Association’s 2017 Judson Chapman Award for community journalism. As The State’s crime, police and public safety reporter, he strives to inform communities about crimes that affect them and give deeper insight into victims, the accused and law enforcement. He studied history with a focus on the American South at the University of South Carolina.

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