"Fight Clubs" Trending on Social Media – Students Living in Fear
Last updated 8/13/2022 at 4:13pm
HERNANDO – Nineteen children and two adults were killed this week in Uvalde, Texas, leaving an untold number of survivors to mourn the loss of their loved ones. The investigation into what drove the shooter, 19-year-old Salvador Ramos, to commit such an atrocious crime is just getting underway, but there is already evidence that Ramos was bullied at school for the way he dressed and spoke.
Closer to home, Hernando County has seen its share of child tragedies, including numerous suicides, but sometimes the pain of being bullied or just having mental health issues can lead to criminal activity and violence against others.
School fights have been going on since, well, the beginning of schools, but when students create "fight clubs" or encourage fighting, simply for the enjoyment of watching people get hurt, then schools are no longer a place for learning, they are prisons with predator and prey.
Last week, R News reported a violent incident that was captured on cell phone video at West Hernando Middle School. Video shows the victim sitting at a table and moments later being struck numerous times in the back of the head by another student. The incident took place in January, but the victim's mother wasn't aware of the severity until video was published on Instagram earlier this month. The victim's mother, Carla Johns, says school officials and the Sheriff's Office minimized what actually happened in their report and discouraged her from pursuing criminal charges. Since our report, the investigation has been reopened.
In the days since we published that story, several parents have come forward, saying their children were attacked and that videos of the incidents were published on Instagram. "Fight club" pages, like WHMS_Fightss and others are being used to upload fights between students to try and make them go viral. Since our last report, many of those videos have been removed or the pages made private.
Jennifer Gambrel contacted R News, regarding an incident involving her daughter who attends West Hernando Middle. Gambrel says another student attacked her daughter in the school's courtyard, back on January 14th, but school officials downplayed the incident and did not make a Sheriff's Office report. Coincidentally, the incident involving Carla John's son occurred just four days later, on January 18th.
Gambrel tells R News that she received a call from the school regarding the incident and advising that her daughter would be suspended for 5 days. Later that day, Gambrel says her daughter's fight was posted all over social media.
One week after returning to school, Gambrel says she received a call from the new SRO, Deputy Gains, who advised that her daughter was threatened by another student who stated, "I'm going to slit your throat," in a text message. When she arrived at the school, Deputy Gains said she would have to sign a waiver of prosecution. Gambrel said, "absolutely not." He continued to try and convince her stating, "come on, you don't want to ruin this girl's record, do you?" Gambrel went on to inquire about the police report regarding the first fight and said, "it's on social media, did you not know there are Instagram pages dedicated to fighting at this school?" Gambrel says they seemed dumbfounded and said "no." Gambrel asked again for the police report, but Gambrel said they pretended to say the computers were down and could not give her the case number. Gambrel says Deputy Gains continued to try and convince her not to pursue charges. (Click Image Below to Watch Video)
I spoke with Hernando County Commissioner Candidate Anthony Arenz who said he's been an anti-bullying advocate for years, and he has zero tolerance for this kind of activity in our schools.
Arenz says, "These kids are suffering more than just physical injuries, they are being emotionally traumatized, and those scars last a lot longer than anything physical." Arenz goes on to say, "We didn't have World Star, Tik Tok, and Instagram when I was in school. It's like the new gang initiation." A lot of these social media pages have headings like "Snitches get Stitches" and Arenz says, "That's like an indirect threat to anyone who tries to report the pages from those posting the videos."
Arenz used his music to reach out to children around the state in an effort to stop bullying and he's been very vocal at School Board meetings to try and get officials to do more about the issue.
School Board candidate Pam Everett is also very passionate about the issue of fighting and bullying in our schools. "There needs to be consequences for those who stand around and record these fights to post on social media," says Everett. She goes on to say, "We also need cameras everywhere in schools, except restrooms." Everett was especially upset that officials are not taking each incident seriously or documenting them consistently. "Staff needs to follow through with what needs to be done and include parental involvement in the process." Everett suggests ISS (In School Suspension) with school community service as an alternative. OSS (Out of School Suspension) is not a deterrent in many cases.
School Board Candidate Monty Floyd also chimed in and said, "In the wake of the horrible mass shooting out of Texas, it's time that we the people of Hernando County take notice of the serious behavior problems we have in our local schools - Enough is Enough," Says Floyd. He goes on to say the District should use ESSERIII funding to add cameras, fencing, staff, and make repairs.
Parents are fed up with nothing being done about the bullying and fighting and they want the Sheriff's Office to follow Florida Statute when it comes to breaking the law.
Sheriff Al Nienhuis made an example of a former Hernando High School student back in 2018, when she called in four false bomb threats. The student was charged as an adult and removed from school. Nienhuis told one reporter, "If you're going to do adult things and you're going to do several of them over the course of the next several days, then you should be held accountable."
During a Youtube interview featuring Nienuis and Hernando County School Superintendent John Stratton, Neinhuis said, "Regarding Threats: If they originate or pass along any threat via social media it is a felony, so if students happen to see or receive a threat on social media, the proper thing they need to do is get it to the proper authorities, get it to a school administrator or SRO immediately." Parents want Nienhuis, SROs and School Officials to have the same attitude towards physical violence and videos being posted on social media as they do with sensationalizing national news stories.
Once again, R News reached out to the Hernando County Sheriff's Office and School District Officials for comment, but we have not received a reply.
Tonight the Hernando County School Board will be holding a meeting to discuss this and other issues.