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Parents of Claremont teen accused in near hanging say it wasn’t racist

  • Katrina Roberge, 14, of Lebanon stands with her father John Roberge in silence during a gathering at Broad Street Park in Claremont on Sept. 12, 2017, to show support for an 8-year-old biracial Claremont boy who was injured while playing with a group of teenagers in his yard last month. James M. Patterson / Valley News

  • A chorus of “We Shall Overcome” rises from a gathering against racism in Broad Street Park in Claremont on Sept. 12, 2017. The demonstration was inspired by violence last month against an 8-year-old biracial boy that occurred while he played with a group of teenagers outside his home. James M. Patterson / Valley News


Associated Press
Tuesday, September 26, 2017

The parents of a teenager accused of being involved in the near hanging of an 8-year-old biracial boy at a picnic table insist that what happened was a tragic “backyard accident” and was not motivated by racism.

In an interview with Newsweek published Saturday, the teenager’s parents, Eric Sullivan and Rhianna Larkin, said he tried to startle the 8-year-old-boy into jumping off the picnic table on Aug. 28, not realizing the boy had a rope around his neck.

Larkin said her son was in tears describing what happened and tried to help the boy after he fell to the ground with the rope around his neck.

“He couldn’t apologize enough,” she told Newsweek. “Everyone was apologizing.”

The 8-year-old boy’s grandmother said the teenager was part of a group that taunted him with racial slurs and pushed him off the table. The boy was treated at a hospital for neck injuries and was released.

His grandmother also said the group had thrown rocks at him and used racial slurs several days before the near hanging.

Larkin and Sullivan said their son had been mixed up with another boy, insisting that he doesn’t even know what a racial slur is. The races of Larkin, Sullivan and their son weren’t disclosed in the Newsweek story.

Amid the publicity around the boy’s near hanging, Larkin said, life has been a “complete hell.”

She said she had been assaulted twice and her 12-year-old daughter was jumped by two other children at school. She also said she received 32 hateful voicemails and more than 130 threats on Facebook after an anti-racism gathering in Claremont, a mostly white town.

“Someone on Facebook told me that my entire family should be hung in the town square while everyone watched,” she said. “And that my youngest son should go first so I would know the pain of what it’s like like the other family does.”

Sullivan said they’re getting death threats.

“We have to worry about our kids leaving the house,” he said.

The case is being reviewed by the state Attorney General’s Office to determine whether it constituted a hate crime or a civil rights violation.

Larkin said she hopes “for peace of mind in our community that there will be no more hate crimes against us as retaliation for something that was a complete backyard accident.”

“I just wish that it all could stop,” Larkin said. “The trauma that little boy went through hanging by that rope is enough. He’s never going to forget it.”

More than 100 people, holding hands and singing “We Shall Overcome,” gathered at a park in the town on Sept. 12 to offer support to the 8-year-old boy’s family.

Town resident Rebecca MacKenzie said she felt compelled to organize the rally to draw attention to a climate of racial intolerance and xenophobia. Religious leaders, city officials and the police chief talked about the attack on the boy as a turning point in the community.