Crime & Courts

Racist videos, threat to Cardinal Newman described in principal’s letter to parents

The new principal at Cardinal Newman says the Catholic school learned only last month about a student who said in videos that he hated black people and threatened a shooting on the school’s campus in northeast Richland County.

Robert Loia, who became principal in July, sent a letter to parents late Friday night explaining that Cardinal Newman officials had expelled the 16-year-old student and told law enforcement about threats to the school. The student — whose name has not been released because he is a juvenile — was no longer allowed on school property, the letter said.

In one video, reviewed by The State, the teenager describes himself as a “hater of all black men” and twice uses the N-word. He pretends an object on the ground is an African American and shoots it repeatedly with two guns.

At the end, he looks at the camera and says: “Thank you for watching my PSA. F--- all (racial slur).”

Loia’s letter does not explain why the school waited more than two weeks to write the letter notifying parents of Cardinal Newman students about the threatening texts and videos, which were sent in May before the school year ended.

But Maria Aselage, a spokeswoman for the Diocese of Charleston, told The State school officials concluded there was no danger to the school since the teenager had been arrested and school was out for the summer.

The principal’s letter was emailed to parents shortly before 10 p.m. Friday, just after The State newspaper had published a story detailing the incident. The State had called the school hours before, seeking comment.

The school notified the Richland County Sheriff’s Department of the videos and threats in mid-July, the same day the school learned of them, officials said. That prompted the department to arrest the youth, according to Loia’s letter to parents.

The Sheriff’s Department indicated in an incident report that it learned about the racist videos on July 15, after school officials had discovered them. The report indicated the Sheriff’s Department found out about the student’s threat to “shoot up the school’’ two days after that, when more videos and texts surfaced.

Cardinal Newman confirmed in Loia’s letter that it told the Sheriff’s Department about a racist video and a “threatening video.” Videos had been shared among students, Sheriff Leon Lott said Friday.

School officials learned about the videos and threats from the parent of a Cardinal Newman student, Aselage said.

In his letter, Loia said he needed to inform parents about “some disturbing news’’ and suggested parents brace themselves for scrutiny.

“The next few days may be challenging for Cardinal Newman, so I ask for your prayers for our students, teachers, staff and administrators,’’ Loia’s letter said.

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Parts of the letter repeated what the Catholic Diocese said in a statement to news outlets Friday night, assuring parents that their children are safe at the school.

“Because we, along with law enforcement, promptly addressed the threat, the risk to the school community was neutralized,’’ the letter said.

The letter said Cardinal Newman “embraces diversity’’ and does not condone or tolerate racist comments or threatening behavior.

Sammy Fretwell has covered the environment for more than 20 years at The State. He writes about an array of environmental subjects, including nature, climate change, energy, state environmental policy, nuclear waste and coastal development. Fretwell is a University of South Carolina graduate who grew up in Anderson County. Reach him at 803 771 8537.