No criminal charges will be filed in the March death of a 10-year-old Colleton County girl who died after a fight in her classroom, the solicitor says.
Fourteenth Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone told reporters Friday morning Wright died from natural causes, the result of a rupture of blood vessels in a rare condition known as arteriovenous malformation, or AVM, in her brain.
"In this case, the science is very clear," Stone said. "The science shows us her death was natural."
The child had repeatedly complained of headaches in the days and weeks before her death, he said.
Stone classified the condition as a "birth defect" and said there was no sign of trauma on Wright's body. He said there were no signs of bruises, cuts, scrapes busted lips or black eyes.
Wright, a fifth grader at Forest Hills Elementary School in Walterboro, died at MUSC two days after a March 25 fight in her classroom.
Stone said Wright had complained of headaches prior to the incident and visited a doctor seven times since February 2017.
Sheriff R.A. Strickland said investigators interviewed approximately 15 students on the day of the incident.
"This does not appear to be a case of bullying," he said. He also said the teacher was in the room and behind the desk when the incident, which was described as a five to 10 second "slap fight," occurred.
Attorneys representing the mother of a 10-year-old Colleton County girl say they will "trust but verify" reports that the child died from natural causes and not from any trauma caused by a classroom fight in March.
Attorney Margie Pizarro presented multiple reports of an ongoing dispute between Raniya Wright and a second student who she said was involved in the fight with Wright. Pizarro said they are conducting an independent investigation into Wright's death.
After Friday's news conference, attorney Mark Peper issued a statement on behalf of Raniya Wright's father, Jermaine Van Dyke:
"Mr. Van Dyke appreciates the efforts made by law enforcement to date that allowed for some of his many questions to be answered this morning. Our team will be reviewing all medical and investigative reports in the coming days in an effort to better understand the events leading up to Raniya's tragic death."
Ahead of Friday's news conference, authorities released few details about the incident, citing the ongoing investigation and incomplete autopsy results.
Earlier this week, community members and members of Wright's family were frustrated after the Colleton County School Board met behind closed doors for the second time since Wright's death to get details about the investigation, but then released no details.
The other student, whose name has not been released, was suspended following the incident, according to Colleton County School District spokesman Sean Gruber, but there has been no official word on whether the student has since returned to the classroom.
Shortly after the 14th circuit solicitor and the Colleton County Sheriff’s Office announced the initial findings of their investigation into Raniya Wright’s death, her mother and her attorney offered a different side to the story.
Ashley Wright, right, stands next to her attorney at a press conference Friday. (Source: WCSC)
Solicitor Duffie Stone said Wright died of natural causes from Arteriovenous malformations that had been there since her birth. Wright’s mother and her attorney have hired their own unnamed private investigator to look into the case.
“While we appreciate the efforts and initial findings that have been presented to us today, we certainly know that this is not where the story ends," Attorney Margie Pizarro said. “This is just the very beginning.”
Unlike the sheriff’s office’s statements, Pizarro said Raniya Wright had an ongoing conflict with the same girl for the past two years. She added that Raniya’s mother, Ashley, went to Forest Hills elementary and complained and also called the teacher on several occasions
“We aspire to the philosophy trust but verify and that’s what we’re doing, that’s why we’re doing our own independent investigation,” Pizarro said. "I think we would be doing a disservice to Raniya Wright and to this community if we did not make our own independent investigation so we can help bring closure to this to the community.
Pizarro added that their private investigator spoke to two students who were in the classroom that day. She then went on to read two of the investigator’s reports which stated Raniya had two separate altercations with the student which she eventually was involved in the fight with.
“This is not right,” Pizarro said. “Students should not be left to defend other students. Where is the accountability?”
The reporting student told the investigator that they saw the other student in the fight holding Raniya by her hair and slamming her into a bookshelf, which conflicts directly with Colleton County Sheriff R.A. Strickland statement that it was a 5 to 10 second slap fight.
“We said trust but verify," Pizarro said. “Some of the information that we have is certainly corroborated by the investigation, some of it may not be, and its our job to fully vet all the information that we have and that’s what we’re going to do.”
Outside the school minutes later, Ashley Wright spoke at length for the first time about the incident saying she had no idea about any medical issues before the incident. She added that Raniya had asked her not to go the school about any alleged bullying because she was afraid of being teased.
“I just want to know the truth,” Wright said. “I just want the answers that haven’t been given to me since day one.....Y’all don’t have to give me one dime. I want my child back. I want my child back in my arms.”