SUMTER COUNTY, S.C. — Two women have been arrested and charged with third-degree assault by mob and disturbing schools after an incident at a Sumter County school on Wednesday.
According to the Sumter County Sheriff's Office, 67-year-old Mamie and 32-year-old Whitley Smith of Goshen Road, who are mother and daughter, were arrested around 2:30 p.m. at Ebenezer Middle School.
Investigators said the two came to the school and made entry by buzzing through the front door, claiming they needed to go to the attendance office. Instead, the sheriff's office said they ran down the hallway and confronted a juvenile student, pushing that student against the wall "hitting and scratching her in the face and head."
"It's just scary and I feel like something needs to be in place," Monica Benjamin, who has an eighth grader at Ebenezer said. "You send your children to school to learn, you don't send them to school to be beat up."
The attack led to the school resource officer calling for backup for the fight as it was happening.
Investigators also said another student in the hallway was pushed and hit and a third was assaulted as well. Of the injured students, one was taken by their parents for medical attention. Two others were also released to their parents.
Morgan Canty, a sixth grader, said she was told to take shelter in a classroom by her teacher.
"All I heard was yelling, yelling, yelling and Mrs. Wilson she had to get us in the classroom and she gave us a pep talk about how she was trying to keep us safe," Canty said. "Me and my classmates, we tried to see what's going on, but Mrs. Wilson closed the door. So, we couldn't see it, but all we heard was screaming and stuff."
Whitley Smith was also taken to Prisma Health Tuomey in Sumter for treatment, medically cleared a short time later, and then taken to jail, the sheriff's office said.
As a result of the alleged attack, both suspects received $10,000 surety bonds - $5,000 per charge.
Sheriff Anthony Dennis said that, based on their investigation, it appeared that the attack was spurred by possible reports that their family member was being bullied. However, the two may not have found their intended target.
"Our investigation showed that the students who were viciously attacked were not even the students who these subjects believed had bullied their family member," Sheriff Dennis said.
The sheriff also condemned their actions, adding that the actions of the two women were criminal and completely inappropriate.
"We work very hard to protect all students in our schools," the sheriff said. "The fact is, the students who were reported as bullying these subjects' family member were actually in the office being dealt with when this attack took place."
Sumter School District Superintendent Dr. Penelope Martin-Knox responded to the incident in a statement calling it "deeply disturbing" and saying they will be reviewing safety protocols:
Sumter School District works diligently to ensure the safety of our students and staff is our number one priority every day. We have safety protocols in place that are adhered to, and we continue to remind staff what those procedures are. Our expectation is for visitors to be admitted through the outdoor security system after stating their purpose for entry. Based on the information that was shared with the staff, it was described as official business for the visit. This unfortunate situation is deeply disturbing, when the intent is not fully disclosed to gain access to children. We will continue to revisit our safety protocols to see if adjustments and modifications need to be made and will do so in an expedient manner where necessary.
This incident serves as a reminder to us all that we must work together to ensure the safety of our academic environment. We would also like to remind our parents and students that if they are experiencing difficulties, there are supports available to provide them with assistance. School social workers will be available to offer support to students at the school. Together, we can help ensure the safety of our students and staff.