South Carolina authorities said Friday that the death of a fifth grade girl at school last month was due to natural causes and not a fight with another student, which they described as lasting only seconds. But the family of the girl disagreed, saying she was repeatedly antagonized by the other student.
Solicitor Duffie Stone said at a press conference that 10-year-old Raniya Wright died of a congenital condition called an arteriovenous malformation, a tangle of abnormal blood vessels in the brain.
Raniya had been taken to the doctor after complaining of headaches about two weeks before she died. Medical records showed she had been to the doctor seven times in the past two years because of headaches.
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Stone said that pathological and other scientific reports showed no evidence of trauma to the body that would have indicated the child died of injuries sustained in a fight on March 25 at Forest Hills Elementary School in Walterboro. Raniya died two days later.
"In this case, the science is clear," Stone said, adding that no criminal charges would be filed.
Sheriff R.A. Strickland said the fight lasted only a few seconds before the teacher broke it up.
"This was a five-second slap fight that occurred in the front right corner of the classroom. Within seconds they were pulled apart," he said.
Maj. Jason Chapman, one of the lead investigators on the case, said that account of the fight was based on interviews with the teacher as well as 15 students who witnessed it.
Raniya was taken to the principal's office afterward and about 10 minutes later complained she had a headache. She was being taken to the school nurse's office when she fell to her knees and vomited, Chapman said. That's when the school called 911. Paramedics arrived within minutes.
The account of the fight given by investigators differed drastically from the one given by an attorney representing the Wright family.
Attorney Margie Pizarro said a private investigator hired by the family interviewed one student who said Raniya was attacked from behind, punched several times in the head, and pushed into a file cabinet and a bookshelf.
The sheriff's investigative report, released Friday evening, said students told school officials the two girls had been arguing throughout the day. Multiple students, who were not identified by name, told school officials Raniya started the fight by striking the other girl in the back.
Several of the students said the girl held Raniya in a chokehold and punched her in the head before pushing Raniya into a cabinet or shelf, where she struck her head.
The teacher gave a written statement to investigators that said her back was turned to the girls when they began fighting behind her desk.
"This is not where the story ends. This is merely the beginning," Pizarro said.
Ashley Wright told reporters that she wasn't aware of any birth defects or conditions that led to a blood vessel rupture until after Raniya was hospitalized.
"My daughter was in good spirits that morning. She didn't complain of a headache," Wright said.