The answers were supposed to come on Friday, finally putting an end to rumors and speculation circulating around Colleton County weeks after the death of 10-year-old Raniya Wright. 

But when law enforcement officials shared their findings — that Raniya died of a brain hemorrhage caused by an underlying medical condition and did not suffer fatal injuries in a fight — the fifth-grader's mother rejected that conclusion.

Rather than definitive answers, what has emerged from the investigation into Raniya's death are two competing narratives: One from law enforcement and another from Raniya's mother, Ashley.

wide outside pressconf Raniya Wright death.jpg (copy)

Ashley Wright spoke to the media after a sheriff's office news conference on Friday, April 19, 2019 about the investigation into the death of Wright's daughter, Walterboro 5th grader Raniya Wright in late March. Wade Spees/Staff

Documents released by 14th Circuit Solicitor Duffie Stone's office Friday night establish a clear timeline, with 911 call logs and statements by staff and students at Forest Hills Elementary School laying out a chain of events that began early on the morning of March 25.

  • 7:30 a.m.: Class starts. Raniya and other student argue, go to gym class and continue arguing.
  • 9 a.m.: Raniya and other student hit each other. The other student says she will beat Raniya up.
  • 11:55 a.m.: Raniya and other student throw paper balls at each other.
  • 12:15 p.m.: Raniya and student hit each other more, Raniya hits other student on back, student gets up and starts punching Raniya. The pair end up behind a substitute teacher who breaks up fight.
  • 12:36 p.m.: Assistant Principal Joe Guarino is informed of fight and removes Raniya.
  • 12:40 p.m.: Raniya is dropped off at Administrative Assistant Angel Parker's office.
  • 12:48 p.m.: Parker reports Raniya felt dizzy and that on the way to the nurse's office, she couldn't walk and fell to her knees. Raniya had to be carried to nurse's office.
  • Raniya lay down, vomited and school staff called 911.
  • 1 p.m.: 911 call reporting Raniya unresponsive. 
  • 1:01 p.m.: Colleton County Fire-Rescue en route to school.
  • 1:07 p.m.: Colleton County Fire-Rescue at scene.
  • 1:17 p.m.: Raniya en route to Colleton Medical Center. 
  • 1:19 p.m.: Raniya arrives at emergency room.
  • 2:58 p.m.: Raniya flown to Medical University Hospital.
  • 3:09 p.m.: Raniya arrives at Medical University Hospital.

Raniya died on March 27. 

Ongoing fight

A Colleton County Sheriff's Office investigative report also provides insight into what sparked the fight, which students and staff noted was the latest in a series of verbal and physical altercations between Raniya and the other student. 

The two students argued about their mothers. Raniya reportedly told the other student that her mother had more money than the other student's mother, and the other student stated that Raniya's mother lived off of "tax money."

There was name calling and the other student reportedly called Raniya, "lesbian, because she liked a girl," the report stated.

"Raniya punched (the other student) first because she got tired of her picking on her," the report stated.

Wright and her attorney said they have evidence of a long history of Raniya being bullied by the other girl involved in the March 25 altercation.

They believe, "the Colleton County School District will be held accountable for the events leading up to the death of Raniya Wright."

Wright said she had complained to teachers; officials said they had no record of complaints.

Cause of death disputed

Officials determined that Raniya died of natural causes.

She suffered from a preexisting medical condition that caused a blood vessel in her brain to rupture, Stone said. Investigators and medical professionals concluded that the classroom altercation, described as a “slap fight,” played no role in her death.

That characterization of the fight differs from initial descriptions included in the Sheriff's Office investigative report. 

According to accounts by students included in the report:

  • The other student had Raniya in a headlock, started to hit her and Raniya hit her head on a shelf.
  • Other student hit her head on a metal shelf while Raniya's head hit a wood cabinet.
  • A small, grey box fell on Raniya's head.
  • Other student slammed Raniya's head against a shelf and closet.
  • Raniya punched other student in the back multiple times then the student got up, grabbed Raniya's neck and slammed Raniya to the wall and started punching her in the head. 

Colleton County Sheriff’s Maj. Jason Chapman said that while the students used the words “chokehold” or “headlock” in describing the incident, what they reenacted showed something different.

The children demonstrated that the other girl pressed her hand onto the back of Raniya’s head, as if to push Raniya away, Chapman said.

Raniya was partially bent over at the time, he said. Investigators believe that her backside, not her head, bumped into the cabinet. He said the object that fell was a 3x3 picture frame that didn’t weigh much.

Officials said neither Raniya nor the other student involved complained of injuries after the altercation.

Wright, and her attorney, Margie Pizarro, stated they remain skeptical of the medical examiner's conclusion.

Pizarro said her team has not yet reviewed the autopsy report. They planned to ask medical professionals for more information, including whether the fight could have triggered the rupture in Raniya’s brain.

Lingering questions

Raniya’s fourth-grade teacher, Debi Price, told police in a recorded interview that she was close with Ashley Wright. Price said she never heard of any issues related to bullying.

Price also told investigators that Raniya's mother contacted her on the night of March 25 and asked her to come to the hospital. 

Wright told the teacher Raniya had a brain aneurysm that they believed burst during the altercation and that the mother "felt bad she did not take Raniya to the doctor before, even though Raniya had been complaining about headaches."

Medical records included in documents released Friday by authorities showed that Raniya had multiple visits to her doctor complaining of headaches and dizziness between May 2014 and May 2018.

On March 28, Wright told investigators that her daughter started complaining in the weeks leading up to her death about not wanting to be at school.

Wright also told investigators that her daughter had told her she was being picked on by the same girl involved in the March 25 fight. 

Colleton County funeral memorial Forest Hills Elementary School died (copy)

A horse-drawn carriage brought the casket for the funeral for Walterboro 5th-grader Raniya Wright at Saints Center Ministries church on Wednesday, Apr. 3, 2019. Wade Spees/Staff

As she continues to search for answers, Wright said healing has not been easy, but that she is staying strong. 

“I had to lay by my daughter the night before she passed,” she said on Friday. “I will never forget the warmness when I laid by her. … That’s what’s keeping me so strong; she isn’t here to tell her story.”

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Reach Gregory Yee at 843-937-5908. Follow him on Twitter @GregoryYYee.

Gregory Yee covers breaking news and public safety. He's a native Angeleno and previously covered crime and courts for the Press-Telegram in Long Beach, CA. He studied journalism and Spanish literature at the University of California, Irvine.

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