A security camera video taken inside a Cincinnati elementary school reveals that a student assaulted an 8-year-old boy in a restroom and other children kicked and struck the boy for five minutes while he lay unconscious.
Two days later, the boy died by suicide.
In a report obtained by The Cincinnati Enquirer, a Cincinnati Police homicide detective describes the Jan. 24 Carson Elementary School video’s content: “I witnessed behavior that in my belief is bullying and could even rise to the level of criminal assault,” if not for the young ages of the perpetrators.
School officials did not tell the boy's mother about the assault or that he had lost consciousness, only that the boy had fainted, the mother's lawyer says. Neither Cincinnati Public Schools officials nor Carson Elementary officials are commenting on the video or the assault.
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The 8-year-old boy died Jan. 26, the first youth suicide in 2017 in Hamilton County, Ohio. Seven county residents 18 and younger have died as suicides this year. Last year, there were 13. The yearly average is about five.
The Cincinnati Enquirer has asked Cincinnati Public Schools to release the video of the assault. The system’s lawyers, however, denied the request, citing federal privacy law. The Cincinnati Enquirer believes the denial was in error and is appealing the decision.
As a result, school spokeswoman Janet Walsh declined to answer any other questions about the situation. Walsh previously has said Carson Elementary had zero reports of bullying in the August-December term.
In January, Cincinnati Public Schools reported that the number of bullying incidents had declined systemwide: In the 2014-15 school year, there were 319 reported incidents; in 2015-16, there were 265 reports; in the first semester of this school year, 107.
The 8-year-old’s death triggered a police investigation. Eric Karaguleff, a veteran Cincinnati homicide detective, wrote an email Feb. 3, about a week after the boy’s death, to Jeff McKenzie, Carson's assistant principal. Carson principal Ruthenia Jackson and three other Cincinnati Public Schools officials were copied on the message.
The detective reported that the security-camera video was taken over the noon hour of Jan. 24 and focuses on a restroom entrance. Karaguleff viewed the video Feb. 1, six days after the 8-year-old boy’s death, and said he found it alarming: “I saw some concerning events, and I don’t even have a child at that school."
Karaguleff composed a timeline for 18 minutes of video. Eleven minutes in, a boy enters the restroom, wearing a red and gray coat “with dyed hair sorta O’Dell Beckham Jr. style,” in the manner of the professional football player. Six seconds later, kids flee the restroom. The boy in the red and gray coat hits another boy in the stomach, “sending him to the floor in all fours.” The assailant then threatens another boy.
Then the 8-year-old arrives “and appears to shake hands.” The boy in the red and gray coat yanks the 8-year-old to the ground and “appears to celebrate and rejoice in his behavior” as the victim lay motionless. For nearly five minutes after that, “Many students step over, point, mock, nudge, kick, etc.,” the 8-year-old boy. Finally, McKenzie rushes into the restroom and finds the boy.
The detective’s report said the school staff could best handle the issue, but he asked for the name and date of birth of the boy in the red and gray coat. This week, police spokesman Lt. Steve Saunders said the department concluded its investigation with no further action.
Cincinnati lawyer Jennifer Branch, representing the 8-year-old’s mother, said on the day of the assault, someone from Carson Elementary called the mother to say her son fainted and was in the nurse’s office with normal vital signs. The mother picked up her son and took him home. Later in the evening, the boy became nauseous and vomited twice, and his mother took him to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Branch said the boy only told his mother his stomach hurt, adding that the mother believes he did not know what had happened that day.
Cincinnati Children’s kept the boy until about 6 a.m. Jan. 25 and decided he was suffering from stomach flu, Branch said. Exhausted, the boy stayed home from school that day. He did go to school Jan. 26 and came home. But around 5:30 p.m., he went to his bedroom, knotted a loop in his necktie and hung himself from his bunk bed.
Branch said officials of Carson Elementary and the school district did not tell the mother that her son had been assaulted at school.
“If the school had told her what had happened to him in the bathroom, that he was unconscious for such a long period of time, she would have taken him to the hospital immediately, reported that to the medical professionals, and she would have called police,” Branch said.
“That’s why this is so frustrating for her, not knowing what really happened in that school."
Follow Anne Saker on Twitter: @apsaker