NEW HANOVER COUNTY –– New Hanover County Schools Superintendent Dr. Charles Foust urged parents Friday to come forward to school officials if they believe their child is being bullied and suggested Monday’s shooting at New Hanover High could have been prevented had those involved spoken out.
His statements were made the day after the mother of the teen arrested for the shooting publicly accused the school district of failing to protect her child after she confronted them about an attack on her son the first day of school.
On Friday, the school board and county commissioners met for a joint meeting to discuss a solution to rising youth violence on the streets affecting school safety.
Toward the end of the meeting, Foust denied receiving any “verification of bullying” involving Monday’s incident, during which a brawl escalated to shots fired. It’s unclear whether Foust’s comments were referring to the mother’s claims, to comments made by those around the table or if he was speaking in general to rumors of the suspect being a bullying victim that circulated on social media throughout the week.
Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo, school board member Hugh McManus and commissioner Jonathan Barfield all brought up the issue of bullying during the meeting. “It’s important that we listen and not have implicit bias play into how we treat each person that comes into a school when they have an issue,” Barfield said early into the session.
“‘How did we get here?’ We got here because no one was telling anyone,” Foust said. “And so, I have to say that because I don’t want people to think that we were not being a safe haven for students.”
During an interview with various media outlets at Sokoto House Thursday, the suspect’s mother, Domanae Deablo, told reporters she approached administrators twice after an 18-year-old initiated a fight with her 15-year-old son just outside the high school campus. Her first encounter was in the school’s front office and the second was with an employee overseeing security at the board of education building on 13th Street.
“I said to him, ‘I can’t do this every day. We’re not going to do this every day. What do we need to do to put something in place where this does not happen again?” Deablo recalled.
Deablo said she left the second meeting with an understanding that the young man who fought her son was not supposed to be on campus and that the school would prevent a second altercation. The following Monday, she said her husband went to the front office regarding threats made via Snapchat against his son. Thirty minutes later, she said the shooting occurred and she expressed disappointment to see videos of her son “kicked and stomped and slung around” without an adult in the frame.
Amid the chaos, her son allegedly fired multiple shots in the crowded hallway, injuring another student.
New Hanover County Schools has declined to respond to any of Deablo’s claims, citing the incident remains part of an ongoing law enforcement investigation. NHC Board of Education chair Stefanie Adams said Friday she had not seen any of the media reports about the mother’s accusations when asked for comment.
On Friday, Foust said he would ask New Hanover High whether bullying complaints were brought forward, but he was not made aware of any by the principal’s office.
“I just want us to be clean on it. I don’t –– there is no indication where we knew,” Foust said. “I’ll be working with the principal to find out.”
He stressed any students involved in Monday’s incident have no place in New Hanover County Schools and will not be allowed in the buildings moving forward.
“I want our community to understand, our students to understand, this is serious,” Foust said.
The superintendent stressed there never should have been a gun on that campus: “When someone is saying the only thing that they can lean to is a gun –– there’s so many adults on that campus. There’s so many officers there.”
The superintendent then urged parents to visit the front office and tell someone if their child is uncomfortable at school. For students who feel unsafe, he said mental health counselors are available on campuses and teachers, bus drivers or any other faculty member can help.
“There are people –– they know how to get to the bottom of this,” Foust said.
Foust said he does not want victims of bullying to feel they cannot disclose details to admins out of fear that harassment would worsen. He promised confidentiality to students who personally email him with concerns and to only share that information with the principal so the administration can address the situation.
“I don’t want us to sit around and say that we’re not doing anything,” Foust said. “We can get the safe places, the safe spots, when we need to, but we have to talk about it. But I don’t want us to walk away from here and say that we are a playground filled with bullies and that’s not true. Bullying does happen — I don’t want to say that it doesn’t. But what I want us to say is that there are things in place that has been proactive.”
Catch up on PCD’s coverage of the NHHS shooting from Monday:
- Post school shooting, NHC dedicates partial funds from hospital sale to youth violence prevention
- Mom of New Hanover High shooting suspect says she sought help from district days before incident
- Governor Cooper addresses back-to-back school shootings this week
- ‘Safety is our top priority’: NHHS principal pens message to students after first day back since shooting
- 2 calls, 2 emails: NHCS defends crisis communications on day of New Hanover High shooting
- Emergency transcript reveals official timeline of response to New Hanover High shooting
- Unification operation at Williston was disorderly, chaotic post-New Hanover High shooting
- New Hanover High won’t resume classes Tuesday, district will audit shooting that left one student injured
- 15-year-old shooter apprehended after opening fire in New Hanover High School catwalk
- Video shows shooting on New Hanover High catwalk, one student injured, others evacuate to Williston
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