New Hampshire state prosecutors are now involved in a Claremont police investigation of a biracial 8-year-old boy who was allegedly called racial slurs by teens, and pushed off of a picnic table with a noose tied around his neck.
Gov. Chris Sununu issued a statement Tuesday announcing the attorney general's office's involvement and said he expects that "local and state authorities will investigate appropriately."
"Hatred and bigotry will not be tolerated in New Hampshire," Sununu said.
On Aug. 28, at approximately 5 p.m., the 8-year-old and a group of teenagers were playing in a neighborhood yard, Lorrie Slattery, the boy's grandmother, told Valley News. Slattery said the teens started calling her grandson racial slurs while tossing rocks and sticks at his legs. She said the teens then decided to stand on top of a picnic table and take a rope that was part of a tire swing.
Slattery told Newsweek the teens, who she indicated are white, lured her grandson to put the rope around his neck.
"The 14-year-olds were saying 'Oh look at us,' and putting the rope around their necks, and then they said to my grandson, 'Here, you do it.'
"And he's 8 years old and he put that rope around his neck. And the boys said, 'A-ha!' and shoved him off the table. They did a scare and pushed him at the same time, and that's when my grandson was hung."
No adults were in the yard at the time. Slattery received information about the incident from her grandson and his 11-year-old sister, who was present at the time.
When the boy was able to free himself from the rope, his sister ran to their mother, Cassandra Merlin, and he was rushed to a local hospital. He was then airlifted to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center and treated for his injuries.
Hospital personnel said that before the young boy was able to remove the rope, he swung back and forth by his neck three times, according to Valley News. None of the teens came to his aid, Slattery said.
He did not suffer any internal injuries.
"I think he had a guardian angel," Slattery said.
On the evening of Aug. 28, the victim's uncle posted a photo on Facebook of the 8-year-old's bruised neck from rope burns. He wrote in the post:
"When my sister calls me when something is wrong I feel it in my bones before ever picking up the phone. Tonight I was spot on. My nephew was hung from a tree by a 14 year old who claims 'It was an accident.' I don't care what kind of excuse this teenager has but you DO NOT play with somebody's life."
The victim's family said the investigation by the local police department had been slow moving, until the photo went viral.
"Now they're investigating," said Slattery told Newsweek. "On the day it happened, the police officer went around and spoke to the boy [believed to be the ringleader] and then came back to my daughter and said, 'the child said it was an accident; there's nothing we can do.'
"It was the media who opened their eyes and got them to do an investigation."
Claremont Police Chief Mark Chase said he disagrees with Slattery's statements.
"All I can really confirm is that we sent officers to the initial investigation," Chase told Newsweek. "We have line-level officers that respond initially. When it's a serious investigation, we assign it to our criminal investigation. I assigned a regular police officer, we got the facts, and then the detectives took over immediately. From the get-go, we've believed this was a serious incident. I know that as the police department, we've regarded it as serious."
According to the Valley News, Chase said on Sept. 7 that he was constrained in regard to providing information on the incident as it involved juveniles.
He also referred to the actions of those involved as "mistakes."
"Mistakes they make as a young child should not have to follow them for the rest of their life," Chase said.
Following Sununu's involvement in the case, and two weeks after the victim's family reported the alleged racial incident, on Tuesday afternoon Chase issued a press release, obtained by the Valley News. For the first time, a definitive age range for the youth involved was provided.
"Claremont police detectives assigned to this case are taking all steps possible to investigate the incident," Chase said. "The investigation principally revolves around the conduct of people who are 14 years of age or younger."
"I was just mostly shocked and I wanted to ask them why they did it," said Kylan Smallwood, the team's quarterback and only Black varsity player.
The attorney general's office also announced Tuesday that the New Hampshire Department of Justice would be reviewing the incident. And, "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."
On Tuesday night, about 100 people gathered in downtown Claremont, N.H., for a vigil in response to the possible hate crime.
According to New Hampshire Public Radio, when the organizer, Rebecca MacKenzie, began to introduce the night's first speaker, "she was interrupted by a white man, driving by and yelling from his truck."
He screamed, "All lives matter," in response to "Black Lives Matter" signs at the vigil.
"Stop making it about race," the man yelled.
"Sir, come over to our vigil," MacKenzie said.
But the man drove away.
Faith leaders, city officials and the police chief spoke at the vigil.