State authorities in New Hampshire are investigating a possible hate crime after a family reported that their 8-year-old boy was pushed by teenagers off a picnic table with a rope around his neck, injuring him. The boy was treated in the hospital and released, the police said.
The attack took place Aug. 28 in Claremont, a city of about 13,000 in the western part of the state, and came to light after the boy’s mother, Cassandra Merlin, posted a photograph of her son’s bloodied neck and a statement about it on her Facebook page.
“It truly saddens me that even in a city so small, racism exists,” she wrote.
Merlin could not be reached for comment. She and other relatives told news outlets that their understanding of events came from the boy and his 11-year-old sister, and that there were no adults present at the time.
The boy’s grandmother, Lorrie Slattery, told Valley News, a New Hampshire newspaper, that he and a group of teenagers were playing in a yard in their neighborhood when the teens started calling the boy racial epithets and throwing sticks and rocks at his legs.
Merlin said in an interview with The Root that one of the attackers broke a tire swing from a rope.
“The older boys had put the ropes around their necks,” she said, adding they then told her son it was his turn. “Another kid came up from behind him and pushed him off of the picnic table. And they walked away and left him there hanging.”
Merlin said the boy’s sister screamed for help and described her brother kicking his feet, grabbing at his neck and turning purple before dropping to the ground.
On Tuesday, Gov. Chris Sununu instructed the state attorney general to investigate.
“It is my expectation that local and state authorities will investigate appropriately and I’ve asked for regular updates on how things are proceeding,” he said in a statement. “Hatred and bigotry will not be tolerated in New Hampshire.”
The attorney general, Gordon J. MacDonald, announced Tuesday that the Department of Justice was in contact with the Claremont Police Department and the Sullivan County Attorney’s Office regarding what happened.
“To the extent that there is any credible information that this incident constituted a hate crime or a civil rights violation under New Hampshire law, the office is prepared to take any and all appropriate action,” he said.
Calls and emails to the police and the attorney general’s office were not immediately answered Wednesday.
Claremont Police Chief Mark Chase said in a statement Tuesday that the investigation involves people who are 14 years of age or younger.
“Claremont Police detectives assigned to this case are taking all steps possible to investigate the incident and have been doing so since the police became involved in this matter in late August,” he said.
Demonstrators gathered in a city park Tuesday night in a protest against racism and to show support for the family. Speakers urged the authorities to support the family and announced a fundraising campaign for the boy.
Chase addressed the crowd, saying the department needs help from the community to tackle bias crimes.
“We need to take steps as a community to prevent and recognize social injustice,” he said, according to videos of speakers at the gathering recorded by Valley News.
“I am very hopeful that I see community members, community leaders and people outside our community that are taking an active role to help our community with this event that we are talking about today,” he said.
City Manager Ryan McNutt said that the results of the investigation might never be known because the alleged perpetrators are juveniles. He added that the authorities would pursue the case aggressively.
“There will be no shirking of however this needs to play out legally,” he said at the protest. “We are here to support a traumatized family.”