New Hampshire authorities have launched a hate crime investigation into the reported attempted lynching of an 8-year-old biracial boy by a group of white teenagers. The boy had reportedly been called the n-word by classmates in the past.
The boy’s maternal grandmother, Lorrie Slattery, told Newsweek on Tuesday that local police did not begin seriously investigating the incident until images of the boy’s wounded neck went viral on social media.
“Now they’re investigating,” said Slattery, 52, who is white. “On the day it happened, the police officer went around and spoke to the boy [believed to be the ringleader] and then came back to my daughter and said, ‘the child said it was an accident; there’s nothing we can do.’ It was the media who opened their eyes and got them to do an investigation.”
The attack, which occurred on Aug. 28 in Claremont, N.H., resulted in wounds to the boy’s neck. He was treated at a hospital before being released.
According to Slattery, the boy’s mother, Cassandra Merlin, 27, was at her boyfriend’s home in Claremont, and her 8-year-old son and his 11-year-old sister were playing outside at a nearby house with four boys she believes were young white teenagers.
“They were playing,” Slattery said, “and there’s a tire swing that was hanging from a tree but the tire was not there, just the rope, and there’s a picnic table there. My grandson was there, and the boys were playing with the rope, and the 14-year-olds were saying ‘oh look at us,’ and putting the rope around their necks, and then they said to my grandson, ‘here, you do it.’ And he’s 8 years old and he put that rope around his neck. And the boys said, ‘A-ha!’ and shoved him off the table. They did a scare and pushed him at the same time, and that’s when my grandson was hung.”
According to the boy’s sister, the four teens ran off and left him hanging, Slattery said. The boy was able to release himself from the rope, and when he was free, his sister ran to alert their mother, who rushed him to a local hospital, according to Slattery. From there, he was airlifted to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, about 30 miles away, and treated for his injuries. Slattery said hospital personnel examined the boy’s injuries and determined that the bruises on him were consistent with a noose going around the neck and up behind his ears. (The hospital declined to comment, citing the boy’s age and a possible criminal investigation into the incident).
“The doctor said he should have been dead,” Slattery said. “He never lost consciousness. I think that boy has a guardian angel.”
Facebook posts–including photos of the boy’s neck on the day of the attack–by the boy’s mother and her cousin garnered a lot of comments from community members. About a week later, the posts were widely shared by activists, who also began contacting local media. After the post went viral, the first news story appeared on September 5. Ten days after the incident, the Claremont Police had still not released any information about the case, other than to confirm an investigation.
Police refute Slattery’s account. “All I can really confirm is that we sent officers to the initial investigation,” said Claremont Police Chief Mark Chase. “We have line-level officers that respond initially. When it’s a serious investigation, we assign it to our criminal investigation. I assigned a regular police officer, we got the facts, and then the detectives took over immediately. From the get-go, we’ve believed this was a serious incident. I know that as the police department, we’ve regarded it as serious.”
“After this all blew up on Facebook, the chief came to my daughter’s house and was playing football with my grandson,” said Slattery. “Where was he when my grandson was hurt? That boy felt abandoned.”
The New York Times reported on Thursday that state authorities are now investigating whether to treat the investigation as a hate crime.
New Hampshire’s Gov. Chris Sununu (R) said Wednesday that he had instructed investigators to respond to the attack.
“Yesterday on my instruction, the attorney general’s office sent a team to Claremont to provide assistance. It is my expectation that local and state authorities will investigate appropriately and I’ve asked for regular updates on how things are proceeding. Hatred and bigotry will not be tolerated in New Hampshire,” Sununu said in a statement.
Yesterday on my instruction, the AG's office sent a team to Claremont to provide assistance. Hatred and bigotry will not be tolerated in NH. https://t.co/Y1ZYhIkZH1
— Chris Sununu (@GovChrisSununu) September 12, 2017
“It truly saddens me that even in a city so small, racism exists,” Cassandra Merlin, the boy’s mother, wrote on Facebook. She further described the attack in an interview with The Root but did not respond to the Times’ request for comment.
“The older boys had put the ropes around their necks,” the boy’s mother said, adding that they then told him it was his turn. Her son “got up on the table and put the rope around his neck, and another kid came up from behind him and pushed him off of the picnic table. And they walked away and left him there hanging.”
The Boston Herald reported that police say the suspects were likely all 14 years of age or younger.