South Carolina

What killed Raniya Wright? Family still waiting for answers in SC 5th-grader’s death

What killed Raniya Wright? Three weeks after the 10-year-old girl died in a Charleston hospital, her family and the Walterboro, South Carolina, community where she grew up are still waiting for answers.

The Colleton County School Board met Tuesday, the first full meeting since Raniya’s death, WCSC reports. Raniya’s mother, Ashley Wright, and grandparents were at the meeting, and the board discussed the case in private but did not have any new answers for the community, the TV station reports.

Raniya’s grandfather Ernie Wright told reporters after the meeting, “If a child doesn’t come back home when they get on the school bus, that means the school’s responsible for whatever went on between getting on the bus and not coming home,” he said, according to WJCL.

He told the station he thinks the school board knows more than it is sharing with his family and the community.

“The system failed her,” Ernie Wright said, according to WCBD. “It took a death for you to realize that the system is broken? It shouldn’t have taken a death.”

He said his daughter, Raniya’s mother, had called the school about bullying problems.

“My daughter called the school like two weeks about the same girl and the school didn’t do anything about it,” he told WCBD. “It’s not like this happened yesterday, this was going on two weeks before it happened.”

“We’re waiting for information from law enforcement just like the public is waiting for information for us,” board member William Bowman said, according to WCSC. “We have very little information relative to what has occurred because law enforcement is still searching for the facts.”

The board did release a statement before the meeting, Fox Carolina reports. It said, in part: “We have spent the past three weeks grieving together and mourning her passing. We realize and appreciate the people wanted to know exactly what happened in that classroom and the incident at Forest Hills Elementary School on March 25, and whether that altercation contributed at all to her death two days later. The final investigative report has not been released by the solicitors office or the Colleton County sheriff’s office.”

The board asked for patience and said the investigation report should be available “soon,” the TV station reports.

Two weeks ago, at the last press conference from law enforcement on the case, Colleton County Sheriff R.A. Strickland said it could be “weeks” before his office gets back results from an autopsy and will release any more information, McClatchy reported.

The incident report that was initially released says no weapons were involved in the classroom fight, which was listed as “simple assault,” McClatchy reported.

The board statement said, “It is important for our school district to make sure that a thorough investigation of the Colleton County, relying on all the facts available, is concluded before we issue any formal statement. We should all be patient and not base our opinions on hearsay, rumors and speculation that has led people to jump to conclusions about what actually happened,” according to Fox Carolinas.

Two weeks ago, state Sen. Margie Bright Matthews said the fight was “a simple back and forth between two young girls,” The State reported.

The state senator, who represents Walterboro, said a substitute teacher was in the classroom when the two fifth-grade girls started fighting. The substitute broke up the fight and the girls were taken to the principal’s office, the senator said, according to The State.

“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,” according to The State reported. By the time paramedics arrived, Raniya was unresponsive and had to be airlifted to the hospital, according to The State. She died less than 48 hours later.

In a statement, lawyers representing Ashley Wright criticized the senator: “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 State reported.

Bright Matthews later said she did not mean to minimize what happened leading to Raniya’s death, according to The State.

In a Facebook post, she said, “I was simply sharing that by all accounts, this was not a gang fight. It was an incident between 2 fifth grade girls. The words, ‘scuffle’ and ‘going back and forth’ were not used or intended to minimize or trivialize the (altercation) between the girls,” according to the newspaper.

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Charles Duncan covers what’s happening right now across North and South Carolina, from breaking news to fun or interesting stories from across the region. He holds degrees from N.C. State University and Duke and lives two blocks from the ocean in Myrtle Beach.