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6 eighth graders face criminal charges over ‘hateful and racist’ online chat: DA

todayMarch 14, 2024


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(SOUTHWICK, Mass.) — Six Massachusetts eighth graders face criminal charges in connection with “hateful and racist comments” in a group chat that allegedly included threats and a mock slave auction, officials said.

The group chat unfolded on Snapchat on Feb. 8 into the early morning hours of Feb. 9 among multiple juveniles in Southwick, a suburb of Springfield, according to the Hampden County District Attorney’s Office.

Several students “expressed hateful and racist comments, including notions of violence toward people of color, racial slurs, derogatory pictures and videos, and a mock slave auction directed at two juveniles known to them,” Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni said at a press briefing on Thursday announcing the charges following a monthlong investigation.

The chat was reported to school authorities in Southwick on Feb. 9, Gulluni said. Southwick police were also notified. Gulluni said he became aware of the incident on Feb. 15 and launched an investigation into the use of “hate speech and race-based bullying.”

As a result of the investigation, six juveniles now face charges, Gulluni said. All are eighth graders at the Southwick Regional School, aged 13 or 14, he said.

“There is no question that the alleged behavior in this case of these six juveniles is vile, cruel and contemptible,” Gulluni said. “Seeing it, and facing the reality that these thoughts, that this ugliness can exist within middle school students here in this community in 2024 is discouraging, unsettling and deeply frustrating.”

All six have been charged with threat to commit a crime, according to the district attorney’s office. One has additionally been charged with interference with civil rights and witness interference, while another has also been charged with interference with civil rights, the district attorney said. Their names are not being released because they are juveniles, according to the district attorney.

“With this I intend to be very clear: Hatred and racism have no place in this community, and where this behavior becomes criminal, I will ensure that we act — and act with swift resolve, as we did here — to uncover it and bring it to the light of justice,” Gulluni said.

Several students, including those charged, were immediately suspended from the Southwick Regional School on Feb. 12 over the chat, according to the district attorney’s office. Several students were formally suspended several days later, including two for 25 days and one for 45 days, the office said.

ABC News has reached out to the Southwick-Tolland-Granville Regional School District for comment on the charges.

In a statement to Boston ABC affiliate WCVB last month, Superintendent of Schools Jennifer Willard said the school district sent an email to the school community on Feb. 12 informing them of a “highly inappropriate and racist conversation on Snapchat that involved students at Southwick Regional School.”

“We can assure the community that the District does issue consequences in accordance with our school code of conduct in these types of circumstances,” Willard said in her statement. “As stated in our original email to the community, the District firmly believes that racism and discrimination have no place in our school community.”

A Springfield woman told WCVB that her 13-year-old daughter was one of the targets of the alleged mock slave auction.

“If they have this level of hate in them now at this tender age of 13 and 14, it worries me,” she told the station last month. “I know this is not something we can just walk away from.”

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