By Connor McCarthy
KALAMA, Washington (KPTV) — A Kalama teen was arrested this week and charged with a hate crime after investigators said he targeted a transgender student at his high school.
The 16-year-old boy was also charged with assault. The victim, who is also a minor, attends Kalama High School with the suspect. According to the Kalama Police Department, the attack happened on June 6. The attack was recorded on video and in it, you can see the two students exchanging punches.
Investigators said the suspect started the fight by yelling homophobic slurs at the victim. The fight escalated to the point where the suspect allegedly kicked the victim in the head, knocking them out. Natasha Wheeler is the victim’s mother, and she believes her child, whose pronouns are they/them, has been a target of hate speech ever since they started an LGBTQ club on campus.
“You can’t use words like that and it not turn into violence,” Wheeler said. “These kids wanted violence. They were waiting for a reaction. Eventually, you can only take so much.”
This past Monday, students at Kalama High School walked out of class in protest of the school’s handling of the fight. Some told FOX 12 on the day of the walkout, that the school district and the high school administration are to blame for allowing hate speech to be tolerated on campus. Wheeler agrees.
“Those kids were out there peacefully protesting, which is their right to do,” Wheeler said. “For a lot of them, that was their moment to feel their strength, to have their voice be heard because they’ve been stifled for so long before I even got here. I’ve talked to other parents and this has been an issue for years at this school.”
During the walkout, a different student allegedly used homophobic slurs against the protesting students and threatened to shoot up the school. Kalama High School was placed on a lockdown while police investigated the threat. Eventually, the student who made the threat was arrested. Wheeler described what it was like to sit in a locked room with students who thought a gunman was returning to their school.
“I cried yesterday morning,” Wheeler said. “Watching them cry, watching them text their parents goodbye, they thought they were going to die.”
The Kalama School District sent FOX 12 a statement about the arrest of their student involved in the alleged hate crime:
“The actions by one of our students last week are not consistent with the values and mission of Kalama School District. We stand with our student body in demanding a school environment free from harassment, abuse, and violence, and we thank our students and families for helping to drive the conversation around acceptance, understanding, and school safety.”
Wheeler said she disagrees with the district’s statement after what she and her child have experienced. She said she’s proud of her teen for being a leader on campus for the LGBTQ community but she is still scared for their safety. However, Wheeler said she’s going to make sure no other student is a victim of a hate crime at Kalama High School.
“I feel bad for these kids that have been here for their whole lives and they’ve been treated this way the whole time,” Wheeler said. “And nobody’s done anything about it.”
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