Crime & Courts

Parents voice outrage, fear after racist videos, threats surface at Cardinal Newman

Parents fearful for their children’s lives criticized the Cardinal Newman School administration Monday for failing to tell them about a student’s racist and threatening videos against the northeast Columbia campus last spring.

In a tense, early morning meeting with administrators, parents of both black and white students said the school didn’t say anything about the threat until after The State newspaper reported Friday night that a 16-year-old student had said on video he planned to “shoot up’’ Cardinal Newman.

Hours after the meeting ended, school principal Robert Loia apologized, saying he should have been more forthcoming.

“We heard first-hand about the pain and anxiety so many have experienced since news about the threatening videos were released Friday,’‘ Loia said in a letter to Cardinal Newman families, which was released about 7 p.m. Monday.

“I realize now that I should have communicated with you immediately when I learned a violent threat had been made against our school community. For this I take responsibility and offer my heartfelt apology. It is my hope and prayer to earn back your trust.’‘

The student, whose name has been withheld by authorities and school officials because he is a minor, was videotaped firing guns at targets meant to represent black people. He said he hated African Americans and used a racial slur to describe them, before threatening violence against the Catholic school of more than 500 students.

The videos surfaced in July, but were recorded in May before the academic year ended.

Dozens of parents — many of them African American — attended the morning meeting with Loia, said sources who were at the meeting.

Parents said the school’s failure to tell them for weeks after learning of the May threats had shaken their confidence in Cardinal Newman. Cardinal Newman plans another meeting Thursday night to continue discussions with parents.

Some of those reached by The State after Monday’s meeting said they were scared of having their names used because they or their children could be targeted by racists.

One African American parent who attended the meeting said Cardinal Newman should have been more forthcoming, particularly in light of mass shootings over the weekend in Texas and Ohio, The State has learned.

Classes resume for the academic year in several weeks.

“You’re sitting on this information; you have no answers for us,’’ the man told Cardinal Newman officials.

Cardinal Newman has said it learned of racist texts and videos from the parent of a student who was on a group text chain. School administrators then confronted a student shown in a video shooting objects he said represented black people, then saying he hated blacks. School officials said they planned to expel the student but allowed him to withdraw from school.

Several days later, school officials said they learned of more texts and videos, this time with the student threatening a shooting at Cardinal Newman. He then was charged by the Richland County Sheriff’s Department with making a threat against students.

Eboni Nelson, a Cardinal Newman parent, said it was difficult explaining to her child why anyone would want to hurt black people because of their race. After the meeting, Nelson said in a statement that children should be taught to treat other people as they want themselves to be treated.

“As this horrifying experience at Cardinal Newman has shown, our children’s lives may literally depend on learning these important lessons,’’ she wrote.

Another parent, who spoke with The State after the meeting, said she worries that the 16-year-old who made the racist and threatening videos is still at large in the community — and that his friends might also be a threat to Cardinal Newman children when school begins in several weeks.

“If we allow our children to return, you can set up all the security in the world that you want, and you will lock out that one student,’’ the parent told The State. “But if you have a small group of students who also believed in him, you have only locked them in the school with our children. You cannot do that.’’

Some parents urged Cardinal Newman administrators to take disciplinary action against other students who were provided the racist texts and videos last spring.

The videos were distributed to a select group of Cardinal Newman students through a group text chain. Some of the texts and videos were distributed May 11, before Cardinal Newman got out for the academic year, the Richland County Sheriff’s Department has said.

The Sheriff’s Department has declined to answer questions about the student’s whereabouts, and local prosecutors say they can’t comment because it is a juvenile case.

But the Sheriff’s Department issued a statement Monday saying it didn’t notify the public of the threats two weeks ago because school was out for the summer when the department learned about last spring’s threats. The department also said it did not notify the public because the suspect “was in custody.’’

The department confirmed the threat when asked Friday by The State.

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“The threat in this case was historical, was neutralized with an arrest, and posed no immediate threat to the students of Cardinal Newman,” the Sheriff’s Department statement said.

The 16-year-old student said in one video that, “I’m going to show you what I think of a black man,” and shot a box of Jordan shoes. He shot the box several times with a long gun, turned to the camera and said, “F--- all n------.”

Whether the student will attend another school is another question being raised.

If the former Cardinal Newman student wants to transfer to a public school, his disciplinary record can be scrutinized by the board of the school district where he is applying, according to state law. After examining his record, school boards can prevent him from attending schools in their district, state law says.

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.