WIGGINS, Mississippi (AP) — A black mother in Wiggins, Miss., says her 15-year-old son was shaking in fear as he described white schoolmates putting a noose around his neck two weeks ago and pulling it tight.
Stacey Payton told The Associated Press on Thursday that her son bears no physical injury, but she believes the incident has permanently changed him. She said he continues attending classes and playing football at Stone High School in Wiggins. However, he’s quieter than usual, and she said the family fears retaliation for having brought attention to the Oct. 13 incident.
Payton, a college instructor, said her son met her in her office and told her about the noose a couple of hours after it happened in a high school locker room.
“His first words were, ‘Mom … please stay calm. Don’t panic. I don’t want you to call the school because it’s already been handled,'” Payton said. “When I was looking at him, he was shaking and the expression on his face — he was horrified. He was very fearful.”
She said she was expecting him to say he had received a bad grade or had gotten in trouble for talking in class.
“I sat down and I looked up at him and I said, ‘Son, just lay it on me. Just give it to me,'” she said. “And he said, ‘Mom, they put a noose around my neck and they pulled it tight and it choked me.’ And I just instantly — it was like a chill went over my body.”
The Stone County Sheriff’s Department is investing. Mississippi NAACP President Derrick Johnson is calling for federal authorities to investigate a possible hate crime. Brett Carr, the FBI spokesman in Mississippi, said the bureau is aware of the incident but he can’t confirm or deny whether agents are investigating.
Payton described her son as a peaceful young man and said he was friends with the boys involved, and even called one of them “brother.” The Payton family says up to four white students took part.
The school district’s attorney, Sean Courtney, wrote in an email to AP that only one student was accused of misconduct, according to statements from witnesses and those involved. Courtney said that student has been suspended from school “pending the conclusion of the disciplinary process.” Following district policy, Courtney did not release the student’s name.
Courtney said there was no report of any racially-insensitive language nor any indication of what the motivation may have been.
Payton said administrators should have contacted her immediately instead of waiting about two hours. After her son had already told her what happened, she received a call from an assistant principal, she said.
“He was very emotionless, just presented simple facts that this is what has occurred on campus,” Payton said. “I think just the tone in his voice and the way that he spoke to me just caused a lot of anger to come up.”