COLUMBIA, S.C. - A fifth grader who died after a fight last week at a South Carolina elementary school exchanged shoves and slaps with the other student but didn't initially appear to suffer any serious injuries, the state senator who represents the area said Tuesday.
Sen. Margie Bright Matthews said she is trying to stop the rush to blame the substitute teacher in the classroom, administrators or the other girl involved in the March 25 fight at Forest Hills Elementary School in Walterboro.
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Bright Matthews said the two girls had been arguing much of the day when they started pushing and slinging their arms at each other. She said the confrontation lasted less than a minute.
"I've heard a lot of people saying, oh they were kicking her. They ganged her. None of that. That is so far from the truth," Bright Matthews said from the Senate floor.
An assistant principal was nearby and escorted the girls to the principal's office as they kept arguing, Bright Matthews said.
"They seemed to be OK when they left the classroom," Bright Matthews said after Tuesday's Senate session. The Walterboro Democrat said she has talked with the families of both girls, the substitute teacher, and school and law enforcement officials.
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While in the principal's office, 10-year-old Raniya Wright complained of a headache, threw up and then lost consciousness as she was taken to the nurse's office, Bright Matthews said. She died two days later at the hospital.
There was video of the girls in the school hallway walking to the office, but not inside the classroom where the scuffle took place, Bright Matthews said.
"I think it's a case of 10-year-olds acting like 10-year-olds," she said.
Bright Matthews said deputies immediately came to the school after the fight and questioned all the students and the teacher individually before they could go home.
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The other girl has been suspended and a criminal investigation into the fight continues. Solicitor Duffie Stone said it could take weeks to get tests back from the girl's autopsy and unravel exactly what happened and whether any charges should be filed.
Colleton County Sheriff's spokeswoman Shalane Lowes said Tuesday that deputies had no comment on Bright Matthew's version of events and would show their findings to the families involved before making them public.
Few details of the fight and its aftermath have been released. In its first statement on the fight, school officials said a student "suffered injuries after a fight occurred in her classroom."
None of the official information released indicated there was a medical emergency, but officials have also backed away from definitely blaming the fight for what led to Raniya's death.
School officials realize people want to know exactly what happened, but the district needs to let the criminal investigation finish before releasing any more information, Colleton County School District spokesman Sean Gruber said.
"Now is the time for our community to mourn the loss of a child. The facts of this tragedy will become clearer in the weeks ahead," Gruber said in a statement.
Bright Matthews said she hopes the girl's death leads to legislation calling for smaller class sizes instead of anti-bullying measures. The senator would like to see 16 or fewer students in elementary school classrooms. About 25 students were in class at the time of the fight.
"Don't let young, 10-year-old Raniya Wright's death or the public persecution of the other folks to go in vain," she said.
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