CINCINNATI (AP) — An 8-year-old boy shown on surveillance video being knocked to the floor unconscious at school two days before he killed himself told staff he had fainted and never said he had been bullied or assaulted, a school spokeswoman said Friday.
Gabriel Taye's mother didn't learn of the bullying until her attorneys saw a copy of an email written by a Cincinnati police homicide detective in an investigative file that describes the scene outside a boys' bathroom, her lawyers said. The attorneys have questioned why the mother was told he fainted on Jan. 24 when the video shows he had been injured by another boy at Carson Elementary School.
The Hamilton County coroner said she is reopening the investigation into Gabriel's suicide. He hanged himself with a necktie in the bedroom of his Cincinnati apartment on Jan. 26.
The school spokeswoman said administrators weren't aware of the recording until days later when the detective investigating Gabriel's suicide requested surveillance videos from security officials.
The district released copies of a choppy 24-minute-long video that shows one boy bullying other students and then, according to the mother's attorneys, pushing Gabriel into a wall when he tried to shake the boy's hand and knocking him unconscious. The spokeswoman said it's unclear from the video what happened to Gabriel at that moment.
"It is our firm position that the allegations portrayed in the media are not supported by the video," the district said in a statement released later Friday. The release also noted that police reviewed the video and no charges were filed.
An assistant principal arrived about 4½ minutes after Gabriel fell to the floor, followed by other school employees and the school nurse, who helped him to his feet. He was on the floor just over seven minutes.
Coroner Lakshmi Sammarco told Cincinnati radio station WLW on Thursday that she asked police for a full investigation to determine whether there were contributing factors to Gabriel's suicide, WXIX-TV reported.
"It was very hard for me to believe that an 8-year-old would even know what it means to commit suicide," Sammarco told WLW.
Cincinnati police said they would have no further comment about the case, and they directed questions to the coroner's office. The coroner's spokesman said Friday that Sammarco wasn't available for comment.
District officials and attorneys for Gabriel's mother have disputed what the mother was told the day Gabriel was knocked unconscious.
The district said administrators asked Cornelia Reynolds, Gabriel's mother, to pick him up from school and take him to a hospital. Her attorneys counter that Reynolds decided on her own to pick him up and took him to the hospital after her sister, who was baby-sitting while Reynolds was at work, called to say Gabriel had vomited and was complaining of stomach pains. Doctors said he had a stomach virus and sent him home, attorney Carla Leader said.
Leader said Gabriel had no history of mental health issues and described him as a happy-go-lucky kid. When Reynolds asked him what happened at school the day he was knocked unconscious, he said he didn't know, her attorneys said.
"He really didn't have any recollection of what had happened," said attorney Jennifer Branch, who also is representing Reynolds.
Cincinnati Public Schools is reviewing with faculty and staff the procedures regarding adult supervision in the restrooms, and is committed to student safety, the district's statement said.
On Friday, a small group of demonstrators gathered on the sidewalk outside Carson Elementary, with some parents complaining about their children being bullied.
Carolyn Emery has two children at the school, including a daughter who was in first grade with Gabriel. She said he was a "very loving little boy who always had a smile on his face."
Her 9-year-old daughter, Jericka, said she has been bullied as recently as this week, when another girl smacked her. She said she has seen a lot of bullying at the school and doesn't think it will get any better.
"They won't do anything about it," Jericka Emery said.
Another demonstrator outside the school said her 9-year-old daughter was jumped by other girls on a school bus and had marks and bruises on her face.
"She doesn't even want to go to school anymore, and she always liked school," Amy Henson said. "Her grades have been slipping since this started."
Henson said she was told the students were suspended from the bus for several days, but nothing else was done. She no longer lets her daughter ride the bus.
She was among several parents Friday who said they would like their children to go to another school
Henson said school officials sent a note home with students after Gabriel's death saying that a student had died in an accident and counselors would be available for their children.
This story has been corrected to show that it took 4½ minutes, not 7½ minutes, before a school official came to Gabriel's aid.