It was around 5 p.m. on a Monday in late August, and an 8-year-old boy, like so many others that summer evening, was playing in a back yard. The others he was with had a few years on him — some were as old as 14 — and he had no reason to suspect that the picnic table or tire swing nearby would become tools for what his family alleges was a racially motivated near-hanging.
That night in Claremont, N.H., took a dark turn, the boy’s family claims, when the teens started taunting the boy with racial epithets and throwing sticks and rocks at his legs. Family accounts of the incident reported by the Valley News allege the teens stood on top of the picnic table and grabbed a rope attached to a tire swing.
“The (teenagers) said, ‘Look at this,’ supposedly putting the rope around their necks,” Slattery told the Valley News. “One boy said to (her grandson), ‘Let’s do this,’ and then pushed him off the picnic table and hung him.”
The boy swung back and forth three times before freeing himself, the newspaper reported.
No adults were in the back yard during the incident, according to the Valley News, so what happened on the evening of Aug. 28 has largely been drawn from the grandmother’s account provided to her by the boy and his 11-year-old sister, who was also in the back yard and went and found their mother, Cassandra Merlin, soon after.
The Claremont Police Department, in a statement, confirmed that the boy was treated and released from a hospital for injuries received during “this incident.”
A Facebook post from Aug. 28 by the boy’s uncle included a widely circulated photo of the boy’s neck, swollen and scarred.
The Valley News reported that Merlin drove her son to a nearby hospital and that he was later airlifted to the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center with rope burns and cuts to his neck. He did not suffer internal injuries.
“I think he had a guardian angel,” the boy’s grandmother Lorrie Slattery told the newspaper.
The incident has ignited local and national outcry over what has been cast by many, particularly on social media, as a hate crime against a biracial child. In recent weeks, family members and activists have expressed outrage over the lack of information given out by Claremont police, which has consistently cited confidentiality laws protecting juveniles.
Claremont Police Chief Mark Chase again cited the limitations of what could be revealed about the case in a statement released Tuesday and published by the Valley News. The news release was the first time police specified that the investigation revolved around people who were all ages 14 and younger.
Also on Tuesday, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (R) issued a statement calling for state police to assist officials in Claremont.
“Hatred and bigotry will not be tolerated in New Hampshire,” Sununu’s statement read.
Slattery told the Valley News that Aug. 28 wasn’t the first time the teenagers in the neighborhood used racial slurs against her grandson.
“When my sister calls me when something is wrong I feel it in my bones before ever picking up the phone,” the caption read. “Tonight I was spot on,” the uncle wrote in his Facebook post.
Comments on the post included calls to contact the NAACP and to charge the teens with committing a hate crime.
More than 100 people gathered at a Claremont park on Tuesday to show support for the boy’s family, the Boston Globe reported. Attendees prayed and joined in a chorus of “We Shall Overcome,” and many said they hoped the gathering would spark conversations about race relations in Claremont. The city of roughly 13,000 is nearly 96 percent white, according to the 2010 census, and .6 percent black or African American.
“We’re gathering to recognize that we have … a mountain of work to do to deal with racism in our community and virtually every community in America,” Rebecca MacKenzie, one of the organizers of the Claremont gathering, told the Globe.
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