A 6-year-old girl accidentally hanged herself yesterday afternoon when her coat snagged on a climbing bar of a metal giraffe-shaped jungle gym on the playground at Ann Beers Elementary School in Southeast Washington.
Teachers and other schoolchildren at recess in the play area raced to her aid but were unable to get her down from the equipment before she lost consciouness, children at the scene said. A U.S. Park Police helicopter flew the child to Washington Hospital Center, but doctors were unable to revive her. She died about 2:45 p.m., almost two hours after the incident at the school at Alabama Avenue and 36th Place SE.
The girl was identified as Nikia Lashaun King of 2100 36th Pl. WE., a first grader and the daughter of Frank J. and Lummie King.
Jermaine Contee, an 8-year-old third grader at the school, said he was looking out a school window toward the playground just as a bell rang ending recess. "She looked like she was trying to get down [from the equipment]. The hood of her coat got caught on the bars." he said.
Contee said the zipper of the victim's coat pulled against her neck when the equipment, which has climbing bars ranging from 4 to 8 feet off the ground. Contee said some sixth graders in the yard and several teachers, who were lining up other pupils to go back inside, ran to help the girl.
School principal Mary Malooney, appearing distaught over the incident, said "It is heartbreaking to lose a child," but declined further comment.
Acting School Superintendent James Guines said officials were investigating the accident. "It is unfortunate situation, and other than that I have no comment," he said.
Nate Bush, D.C. school board member representing Ward 4, which includes Beers School, said he knows of no particular safety problems at the school. "This is the first accident of this nature," he said. "It's unfortnate. I'm just disturbed about it. It's tragic."
Theodore Thomas, assistant director of safety for the city school system, said there have been no complaints about the equipment in Beers.
D.C. police department homicide detectives, who investigate such deaths in the city, described the death as an accident.
An estimated 4,200 injuries -- ranging from broken limbs to minor bruises -- were reported on Washington's elementary school playgrounds last year. No deaths were reported. Acting Superintendent Guines said late yesterday that accident reports for this year were not immediately available.
Shortly after the accident yesterday, shcool officials notified the victim's father at his job at Sears Roebuck and Co. where he works as an appliance salesman. A school spokeswoman said official were unable to reach the mother, a part-time nursing assistant at Greater Southeast Community Hospital and a nursing student at the University of the District of Columbia. The mother was told of the accident when she arrived at the school about 3 p.m. to pick up her child, officials said.
Last night the Rev. Leon G. Lipscombe, pastor of Allen Chapel AME Curch and a friend of the family, said the King family arrived home about 6 p.m. and told their other daughter, a 17-year-old, that her sister had died.
Other family members and friends gathered last night at the home in the quiet, tree-lined Hillcrest neighborhood of single-family brick homes just west of Branch Avenue SE. Lipscombe described the little girl as a "very playful, a very likeable kid."
He said she was usually called "Nicky" and that she had attended preschool at his church until last year. "She comes from a fine family," he said. The parents are members of the church, he said, and Mrs. King serves on the usher board.