Melanie Bowers with the ‘protest sign’ she says prompted an attack
A 13-year-old East Texas girl claims 21 classmates attacked and beat her in response to a sign she made for a history class calling for an end to illegal immigration.
Melanie Bowers was among the eighth graders at Athens Middle School asked by history teacher Janet Skelton to make “protest signs” that dealt with a past issue and a current one, the Athens Daily Review reported.
Bowers’ sign read: “If you love your nation, stop illegal immigration.”
Friday, according to her father, J.R. Bowers, a group of students attacked her in a school hallway, slamming her head into a brick wall and scraping her face down the side of the wall, the Athens paper said.
The students then attempted to drag the girl into a restroom and threatened to “rape and kill” her, said her grandmother, Layne Wilhoite. The sign was torn up, according to her mother, Shera Bowers.
The 13-year-old later told Dallas/Fort Worth Fox TV affiliate KDFW she was not sexually assaulted but was punched, scratched and stabbed with a pen.
“They picked me up, and they tried to put me in the boys’ bathroom, and they said they were about to rape me,” she said. “And I just started screaming and yelling, and I was, like, ‘Leave me alone! Leave me alone! Leave me alone!'”
KDFW reported three Hispanic students are serving “in-school suspensions,” and school officials are considering punishing two other students. The case is now in the hands of the school district’s police department to determine whether criminal charges will be filed.
J.R. Bowers said Melanie suffered scrapes and bruises and sought medical attention. He plans to keep his daughter out of school until the situation is resolved.
Melanie Bowers told KDFW flyers titled “brown pride,” with her face crossed out, were passed out at school.
Her parents have contacted the FBI and want to open a federal hate crimes investigation, the TV station said.
“She’s upset, first and foremost, because she didn’t feel like she had any reason to be attacked,” J.R. Bowers told the Associated Press. “She loves going to school. We’re having to keep her out because we’re scared for her.”
Superintendent Fred Hayes
Meanwhile, police are reviewing security video, and Superintendent Fred Hayes said the investigation continues. But he already has concluded the class project was not a good idea.
“Should we deal with illegal immigration? Absolutely,” he told KDFW. “But not at a 13- and 14-year student level.”
After the attack, said J.R. Bowers, his daughter tried to use the school office to call him, but Assistant Principal Mark Castleberry would not allow it, arguing it would “mess up the investigation.”
Hayes acknowledged Castleberry should have let Bowers make the phone call, but he said the assistant principal looked over Melanie Bowers and “did not see anything wrong with her,” the Athens Daily Review reported.
Shera Bowers, however, said her daughter was checked out by a paramedic Saturday, suffering a swollen face, various scratches and bruises.
“I’m upset that this happened to my daughter, and that she wasn’t allowed to call us,” she said.
J.R. Bowers said his daughter identified 21 students involved in the attack – 17 boys and four girls – by using a yearbook, the Athens paper reported.
Principal Louis DeRosa and Hayes acknowledge there was an incident, but they stopped short of saying the girl was assaulted. DeRosa says only a few students were involved.
“There was an incident in the hallway after lunch on Friday, April 4, between two or three students,” DeRosa said in a statement. “We have a camera system in the building. We are collecting information and statements from witnesses. This is all the information we have at this time.”