The mother of a biracial Wyoming County high school student who was the target of a “deplorable” racist incident before a high school basketball game last Friday is tired of waiting on school and county officials to take action – and she has hired a Charleston lawyer.
Turns out, the latest incident last week wasn’t the first. But it is drawing a lot of attention – near and far.
Erica Colucci Ayers said that her son, Jace – a sophomore member of the varsity Westside High School boys basketball team – had been targeted for racist harassment last school year in a Snapchat video before a game with Wyoming East, a rival school. The Friday night game was also against East.
“Last year, there was a Snapchat that surfaced before the rival ballgame in our county (between Westside High and Wyoming East High School), and it was some kids chanting, ‘Hang Jace! Hang Jace!’” Ayers reported. “I contacted our principal. I contacted our assistant superintendent and reported the matter, and they assured me it would be taken care of.”
Ayers said she had provided county school officials with a copy of the Snap.
“The superintendent got in contact with the Wyoming East principal,” she said. “I received a phone call back that it had been handled but they couldn’t tell me information because the kids were minors.
“They assured me it had been addressed,” said Ayers. “I let it go and had faith in that.”
And then came the cartoon drawing on Friday.
Ayers reported that Jace entered the Wyoming East locker room for the game and saw drawings that depicted several Westside High players.
The drawing of Jace depicted a stick figure with a noose around the neck, she said. The face of the stick figure had been colored a darker shade.
“They took the time to color the face in on the stick man,” she said. “So they knew the difference.
“I think it was a tactic to get in his head,” she added. “But, with that being said, it’s still a hate crime.
“You cannot depict a particular person hanging from a noose.”
Wyoming County Schools is working with West Virginia State Police to identify those responsible, Wyoming Schools Superintendent Deirdre Cline said Thursday.
Cline called the drawing “deplorable” and said Thursday that Wyoming Schools reported the incident to West Virginia State Police, which has opened an investigation.
“What we’re talking about here, although we don’t know who did this, whether it was a student or an adult, what we have to do is keep an open mind as it works,” said Cline. “But I would guarantee you that it was probably going to end up being one, or maybe two people, whether it be a student or whoever, and the other 1,200 students and the thousands of community members would find this drawing reprehensible, deplorable, and would not think it was OK.
“This will not be tolerated, and we’re doing everything we know to do to get to the bottom of it.”
Cline and Wyoming East High School administrators reviewed footage of who was entering and exiting the visitors’ locker room and have handed surveillance over to police, she said.
“We’re working cooperatively with them, in every way possible, and will continue to do so,” Cline said. “We value every child in Wyoming County, and it’s just not OK.
“Whatever action needs taken, we’re going to take it.”
Wyoming County Prosecuting Attorney Mike Cochrane reported Wednesday that he is asking for a special investigator from outside Wyoming County to handle the report.
“We truly are in sacred service to children, and I just hate so bad that this happened to Jace Colucci,” said Cline. “He doesn’t deserve it.
“No child, and no person, deserves it.”
Cline said the video incident was investigated by the Wyoming County Board of Education and Wyoming Sheriff’s Department and that the audio was deemed “inconclusive.”
“There was a very, very short video clip that was put out,” Cline explained, adding that only the part of the video with Jace’s name had been submitted to Ayers. “It was found the audio on the video was inconclusive.
“You can hear ‘Jace Colucci,’ but you couldn’t understand, at all, the word before ‘Jace Colucci,’” she added. “What the student said they said and what ended up coming out on social media was two different things.”
Cline said that students who were present when the video was made told investigators that “it didn’t say what Ms. Colucci said it said.”
“Any and all appropriate action was taken, and we did our best,” Cline added.
Prosecutor Cochrane suggested Wednesday that a sound expert be brought in to review the video to determine what was being said by the students.
Ayers said Thursday that she would like the case moved from Wyoming County.
“They’re not telling me anything,” she reported.
The case has drawn national media attention.
CBS News, NBC News and CNN have all reported the story.
West Virginia University Institute of Technology’s Diversion and Inclusivity Office is setting up a visit with Jace.
An athletic coach from Hampton University in Virginia has expressed interest in learning more of Jace’s future plans for college, family friends reported.
Kid in the Background, a local multimedia production company, has reached out to media outlets to pull footage available on Jace to create a promotional reel to be sent to universities and colleges.
“(Jace is) not an emotional kid, so he’s handling it very well,” said Ayers. “I know he was embarrassed, and I know he was humiliated.
“He said, ‘They can’t help that they’re ignorant,’” she added. “I was furious, but I’ve held it together enough to handle it properly.
“The strength we get to do for our kids amazes me.
“I didn’t try to take anything into my own hands, besides I used my Facebook as a platform to get the story out.”
Ayers is represented by Charleston attorney Shawn Cook.