Wilmington Police Chief Bobby Cummings speaks at a community town hall meeting on the death of Howard High School of Technology student Amy Inita Joyner-Francis at Stubbs Elementary School on Monday evening.
(Photo: KYLE GRANTHAM/THE NEWS JOURNAL)
Wilmington Police Chief Bobby Cummings, speaking for the first time since the deadly assault of 16-year-old Amy Inita Joyner-Francis at Howard High School of Technology last week, assured the community Monday night that charges will be filed against those responsible.
“We hope to have some closure by the end of this week,” Cummings told a crowd of nearly 100 people at a town hall meeting at Stubbs Elementary School.
No charges have been filed, but Cummings said the Police Department and the state Office of the Attorney General have three individuals who are of interest in the incident.
“We know that charges will be filed,” Cummings said. He said the investigation is ongoing to determine how severe those charges will be.
Police have released few details about the deadly brawl or identified a motive. Investigators continue to comb through social media posts, phone communications and bring in witnesses for interviews, Cummings said.
“We did not want to rush to judgment,” Cummings said. “We would rather take our time to conduct this investigation the proper way. Charges will be filed, and individuals will be held accountable for their actions.”
Friends and family will get to pay their respects Sunday at St. Paul UAME Church in Wilmington.
The visitation with the family will last from 5 to 8 p.m. Sunday at the church on North Market Street, but there will be no viewing or public service, according to an obituary posted on Congo Funeral Home’s website.
“The family sincerely appreciates the tremendous outpouring of love and concern that they have received during this time,” according to the obituary.
So far, there have been two vigils at the high school to honor Joyner-Francis. Administrators from New Castle County Vo-Tech School District said Monday they will hold private meetings for parents over the coming two days in the wake of Joyner-Francis’ death.
The meetings will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday and will not be open to the public. Parents will be required to sign in at the door to gain access to the auditorium, according to officials. The meetings span two days to accommodate the large number of parents and attendees expected.
Tuesday night will be for students in grades 10 and 11; Wednesday will be for grades 9 and 12.
“As you can imagine, the last several days have been incredibly trying for our school community,” said Principal Stanley Spoor at Monday’s town hall meeting. “Our students and staff are also having a difficult time as you can imagine. Friday, today and over the course of the next several days and into the immediate future, one of our priorities is making sure that our students and staff have the necessary supports and counseling services.”
The press release from the Vo-Tech School District Superintendent Vicki Gehrt, the Board of Education and Spoor said that 90 percent of students came to school Monday, the first day of classes since Thursday’s attack. Students did go to school Friday for a shortened day during which grief counseling was offered.
“We have to be really watchful in working with our students as they go through the process of grieving to anger,” said Gehrt. “We have to be there for them.”
Those coming to class Monday morning were greeted by community members and friends outside school doors offering hugs. Few details have been released about Joyner-Francis’ death, other than to say she was seriously assaulted by a number of female classmates in the girls’ restroom just as class was starting Thursday.
“Please understand that this is not a problem in one school in one district in one community or in one state, and we all have to work together to find a solution to help our kids and our families and our communities to address the bullying and violence,” said Patricia Dailey Lewis, CEO of the Beau Biden Foundation for the Protection of Children, speaking at the town hall meeting Monday.
Ashley Biden, daughter of Vice President Joe Biden and director of the Delaware Center for Justice, attended the meeting because she said Joyner-Francis’ death shook her to her core.
“This is really, in my mind, creating those safe spaces for our community,” said Biden, who said she was bullied as a teen.
Biden said she is inspired to join with other organizations to create peer mentoring for teens at Delaware schools, to give students an outlet to talk about the issues.
Rumblings and rumors about what took place in the high school restroom continue to spread, even reaching the ears of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who held a rally in downtown Wilmington on Monday. She called the news “heartbreaking” and said the country must do more to work with young people “who I think are truly being put at risk.”
“We can’t let this go on. We’ve got to, from a very early age, help our children and then help young people understand that fighting doesn’t solve things,” Clinton said. “We’ve got to work with them.”
Most of the attendees at Monday’s meeting were community members and adults who spoke out about the need for parents to step in and do more to discipline their children so that they don’t turn to violence. But 15-year-old Alexandrea Rogers, a sophomore at Howard, spoke with a message of peace and love for her school.
“It is important to teach our younger siblings and little kids not to fight,” said Rogers, who said she was a friend of Joyner-Francis’. “We shouldn’t have waited for this tragedy to happen; we should have just loved each other from the start.”
The school has asked that those wishing to offer support and resources direct their offers to the superintendent’s office at (302) 995-8050.
Students will not be in school Tuesday for the Delaware primary election but will return Wednesday for a regular schedule.
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