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Funeral held for South Carolina student who died after a fight

Posted: 10:04 PM, Apr 03, 2019
Updated: 2019-04-03 23:23:08-04

Dozens of mourners stood outside a South Carolina church as the horse-drawn carriage with the casket of Raniya Wright arrived Wednesday.

"Your wings were ready, but our hearts were not," said a message on the carriage's windows.

A celebration of life for the 10-year-old was held at the Saints Center Ministries in Walterboro on Wednesday, a week after she died from injuries following a fight in her classroom. A number of questions remain unanswered, including what led to the confrontation between Raniya and another student.

Before the service, Raniya's mom, Ashley Wright, spent time selecting the perfect dress and accessories, making sure Raniya's hair was styled perfectly, and deciding whether she would wear lace gloves or have her nails painted.

"She has been busy selecting the passage of scripture that wonderfully describes the love that Raniya gave and choosing the perfect song that mimics her personality," an attorney representing the girl's mom said in a statement. "All tasks that no parent ever dreams they would have to undertake for their 10-year old child."

After releasing silver and purple balloons into the sky Wednesday, mourners filled the pews and aisles of the church to honor a girl who liked basketball and who loved praising God "in her own way."

"Softspoken in demeanor, radiant in her ways, and continuing to display affection at all times, Raniya's favorite words to her family were, 'I Love You'," her obituary said, according to CNN affiliate WHNS .

Her classmates will wear her favorite colors

Rayina's classmates will dress in pink and purple, her favorite colors, for a remembrance later this week.

Students will also make posters and cards for Raniya's family on Friday, said Sean Gruber, a spokesman for the Colleton County School District.

"It's been very tough," Gruber said.

The school plans to continue offering counseling to students, teachers and staff in the next few weeks, the district said Wednesday.

Gruber declined to comment on the investigation into the girl's death or whether bullying played a role.

"We realize and appreciate that people want to know exactly what happened in this incident," Gruber said. "Now is the time for our community to mourn the loss of a child. The facts of this tragedy will become clearer in the weeks ahead."

School district officials have met twice with Raniya's mother and spoken with her once on the phone, Gruber said.

The interactions focused on "offering support and counseling," and school officials did not have detailed discussions with her about the investigation, because that is law enforcement's role at this time, according to Gruber. Interactions have been mostly with the mother because she is listed as the primary emergency contact in school files.

Raniya's father, Jermaine Van Dyke, spoke with reporters this week as he seeks answers on his daughter's death.

"I'm here today looking for justice for my daughter," Van Dyke told reporters this week. "I want just to find out what happened, how it happened, and who was involved."

Legislator's comments called 'regrettable'

From the state Senate podium on Tuesday, Sen. Margie Bright Matthews, a Walterboro Democrat, said she wanted to correct false rumors surrounding Raniya's death.

The legislator said she's spoken with the families of students, the substitute teacher in charge, law enforcement and school officials.

"I've heard a lot of people say, 'Oh, they were kicking her. They ganged her.' None of that. That's so far from the truth -- not even the banging of (her) head. The head was not even an issue," she said.

Mark Peper, an attorney for Van Dyke, said in response, "We are still awaiting official disclosures from the school district, police department and all other public entities, none of whom have provided our client with any pertinent information to date. If the events alleged by the senator (Tuesday) turn out to be factual, so be it, but our client deserves to know what happened to his daughter in a timely fashion."

The Pizarro Law Firm, which represents the girl's mother, said, "We are disappointed that Sen. Matthews would use the South Carolina Senate as the backdrop for her statements less than 24 hours before Raniya Wright is laid to rest," calling the remarks "disheartening and deeply regrettable."

Gruber, with the school system, said he could not comment on Matthews' statement.

"We realize and appreciate that people want to know exactly what happened in this incident. However, it is important for us as a school district to make sure that the Colleton County Sheriff's Office's thorough investigation, relying on all of the facts available, is concluded before we comment publicly.

Parents have not seen hallway video

There is no video from inside the classroom, but there is video from the hallway, according to Peper.

Raniya's parents have not seen that footage, Peper said. They plan to conduct their own investigation, which includes meeting with parents of children who were in the classroom where the fight occurred, Peper said.

Autopsy results are expected to be released within the next 10 days, Peper said.

Raniya suffered serious injuries from what authorities say was a fight March 25. The fight did not involve weapons, according to the Colleton County Sheriff's Office.

Officials said they stopped the fight, and Raniya was taken to the school nurse's station. She was unconscious when paramedics arrived, and they took her to a nearby hospital, according to a sheriff's office report. She was later airlifted to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, where she died.

After Raniya's death, pink stuffed animals were laid at the entrance of her school.