(Editor’s note: Names* have been changed for the protection of the juvenile)
It’s a parent’s nightmare: their child brutally attacked after school by another classmate and injured.
Even worse? The entire attack captured in full color from various angles by the people who did nothing but watched it happen.
On Monday, March 15 around 2:15 p.m. in the area of Bryan Avenue and G Street, directly across the street from Oakdale High School, 15-year-old Amy Smith* was grabbed from behind by another 15-year-old girl with a history of violent behavior and repeatedly punched in the head and face even as she tried to get away. A crowd of more than 40 people, comprised of students and adults, did nothing to stop it. The sounds heard in the crowd were gasps of horror mingled with some shouts of encouragement as the beating continued, egged on by the mob.
The reason for the attack? The attacker was angry with Smith over a boy.
“I tried to tell her that I didn’t want to fight her,” Smith said. “I tried to walk away.”
The video plainly shows that Smith was not the aggressor as she tried to walk away from her attacker, and she clearly was not the victor as the girl rained hit after hit on her small body.
No one came to her defense.
In the police report, the attacker admitted that Smith tried to smooth things out between them without violence but she wanted to fight.
According to school policy as explained by Vice Principal Michael Tambini, the school is responsible for students from “portal to portal” so although the attack happened across the street the incident remained within the school’s sphere of responsibility.
Another parent, Theresa Jones, drove up to the fight as she was picking up her daughter from school.
“I had turned down a side street and saw tons of kids,” Jones recalled. “My daughter was waving me to come over and as I did so I heard Amy* saying to the other girl that she didn’t want to fight her. I was trying to find a place to park and saw parents watching the fight but didn’t do anything. Some of the parents were even shouting, ‘kick her a--,’ which I found appalling.”
Jones ran toward the fight and what she saw traumatized her.
“She basically sat on top of her and smashed her head into the ground,” Jones said.
And yet, no school officials intervened, nor were the police called at that point by anyone in the crowd.
Smith’s mother received a frantic and worried phone call from Jones, who is a friend, and she rushed from work, driving 30 minutes from Modesto, to find her daughter, dazed and confused in the school office, and later they discovered, suffering from a concussion.
“I didn’t receive one call from the school or police,” Mrs. Smith* said. “I got a call from a panicked mom. Mr. Hitch (Dennis Hitch, another vice principal) said he figured someone would call and didn’t want the call to be redundant.”
Mrs. Smith was outraged that no one called for an ambulance when her daughter was clearly injured and in pain yet the filling out of paperwork seemed to take precedence.
“I was hysterical, I pictured the worst,” the victim’s mother said when she arrived at the high school. “She was there for 45 minutes before I was able to take her to the emergency room because they wanted me to sign suspension papers. I was so stressed out at the time that I signed it just to get out of there but afterward I read the paperwork and I was really angry because they had me sign things that weren’t true.”
The paperwork stated that the school contacted Mrs. Smith but that wasn’t the case, she contends. It also stated that it was mutual contact, which Mrs. Smith said was also untrue as the footage shows the younger Smith trying to walk away yet was pulled into the fight by her attacker.
Mrs. Smith demanded a correction on the paperwork but the school, as yet, has not complied, she said.
“They treated my daughter like she was a delinquent. Not once did they ask how she was doing. It mortifies me. The first three days of watching the video we would both cry.”
And she couldn’t understand, if nothing else, why the call wasn’t made to the hospital?
“I dislocated a kneecap when I went to OHS and no one hesitated to call the hospital then and here my daughter has a serious head injury and none of the adults, the school included, thought to call,” Mrs. Smth said.
Tambini declined to comment on specific incidents, stating legalities prevented him from doing so, but said he believed Oakdale was a safe campus compared to the urban schools from his previous employment.
“We have good kids here, not a lot of deceitfulness,” Tambini said. “These kids are straightforward and honest.”
And yet, a crowd of students taped the assault with cell phones — which even more than a week later is still being disseminated throughout the school — without thought to right or wrong.
And, according to Jones, this isn’t an isolated incident.
“There’s always a fight going on at this school,” Jones said. “It’s not a very safe campus and now my daughter doesn’t want to go to school. This incident has changed my opinion on the school. It has traumatized both me and my daughter. At some point they have to do something to prevent these things from happening.”
Jones said her daughter feared repercussions from her involvement and has even suffered some backlash at school with insults hurled her way in the halls. According to Jones, the school’s response was, “Guilty by association.”
“I don’t want any kid to be afraid to go to school. This wasn’t just a little girl fight. That girl had some serious intent to hurt the other girl,” Jones said.
The aggressor has since offered Myspace comments about the incident, most of which are too graphic and full of obscene language to print.
Mrs. Smith said her daughter told her the girl threatened to hit her again, only this time, she’d make sure to put her in the hospital.
Another parent, whose daughter was assaulted days prior to the assault on Smith, has since taken her daughter out of school. A police report was never filed on the assault and the aggressor wasn’t punished.
Tambini said, “We contact the police department if we deem it necessary.”
However, Tambini went on to say that the police department is contacted anytime someone is hurt or if the attack occurs on campus.
Officials with the police department have stated there is a problem with the school underreporting incidents that occur and that without accurate reporting, it’s difficult to get a true snapshot of what’s happening on campus.
Even though OHS is her alma mater, Mrs. Smith admitted, “I’m thinking of pulling my daughter from this school. I don’t think it’s fair that my daughter is missing high school because of a bunch of bullies. It’s a terrible feeling. The right thing to do is to stay at school and tough it out because we’re not quitters but I’m horrified at the thought of this happening again and I’m scared for my daughter. Even kids should know what’s right and wrong. This was not a cat fight and my daughter didn’t even have the chance to defend herself. The school is trying to say that my daughter walked into this situation but she tried to say no. I don’t think there’s anything she could’ve done to avoid it because that girl wanted to fight her.”
And both Mrs. Smith and Jones agree that the school handled the situation badly all the way around, from the lack of a phone call to Mrs. Smith, to what they term the disregard for the victim’s safety and finally, to the personal way the victim’s mother was treated in the aftermath.
“I’m not a mom who’s going to roll over on this,” she said. “Things at the school have to change. They have to learn how to handle these kinds of situations with more sensitivity and professionalism. An apology is a start…but not the finish.”