An apparent bullying attack at a Missouri middle school sent a 74-pound student to the hospital for five days and outraged state lawmakers.
Blake Kitchen -- a 12-year-old sixth-grader at Liberty Middle School, just outside Kansas City -- suffered a fractured skull, a broken jaw, and possible hearing loss from the Feb. 19 attack by another boy at school, according to his mother, who has taken his story public.
"I thought I was going to die," Blake told KMBC-TV this week after his release from the hospital. He spoke while lying on a couch with a pillow shading his eyes from now-painful light. "It felt like all my bones in my body were broken."
In interviews with Kansas City media that have spread widely across the state, Blake's mother, Destiny Kitchen, identified her son's attacker as an eighth-grader who weighs more than 200 pounds and who had previously bullied her other son Preston, 14.
Destiny Kitchen, who could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday, added that Blake has previously been diagnosed with symptoms of Asperger syndrome, anxiety and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.
The alleged bully was such a concern to the Kitchen family that they said the boy's grandfather sent a certified letter to school Principal Dan Weakley a month earlier asking officials to intervene, the Kansas City Star reported.
That was a red flag to at least two Missouri legislators, who told the Los Angeles Times they're worried that school officials missed or ignored obvious warning signs. The lawmakers have hinted that they may support cutting state funding for schools that don't properly address bullying.
"The fact that [the grandfather] felt he needed to send a certified letter tells me he had been worried for a while" and that he was worried school officials might ignore the problem, state Sen. Ryan Silvey, a Republican whose district includes Liberty, told The Times. "That's a problem."
Sen. Eric Schmitt, a St. Louis-area Republican with a son on the autism spectrum, said he was disturbed by the story and demanded action as he addressed the state Senate on Wednesday.
"As a dad, as a parent first and foremost, I was shocked by it – a sixth-grader who weighs 74 pounds was beaten into an inch of his life by a 200-pound eighth grader," Schmitt told The Times on Thursday. If school officials had been warned about the bully, "there ought to be some level of accountability for the adults put in charge of this situation."
A Liberty Public Schools spokesman did not immediately return messages from The Times.
The Liberty Board of Education, in a statement, expressed "heartfelt concern" over the beating and said security footage of the incident had been turned over to the Liberty Police Department. The board said teachers, administrators and a school resource officer had responded to the incident "within seconds."
The board said it was limited in what further information it could provide, adding, "We also disagree with some of the information reported in the media," but did not specify what.
Liberty Police Capt. Andy Hedrick said that the alleged bully was arrested on the day of the attack and that police have investigated and referred the case to county juvenile officials.
"We are taking action on it, I just can't be specific about what we're doing," Janet Rogers, an interim juvenile officer for Clay County, told The Times, citing privacy protections for youths. "It is a serious allegation – he put this child in the hospital for five days."
Rogers added that, generally speaking, it was common for juvenile officials to detain youths in serious assault cases for a short time for protective reasons before a judge holds a hearing.
She said officials in the Missouri juvenile system have a mandate to look for non-punitive solutions or treatment for minors accused of breaking the law instead of relying on incarceration.
Court hearings for youths generally occur from two weeks to a month after an incident, Rogers said.
Blake Kitchen's mother said she would not want her sons going to school if the alleged bully was allowed to return.
What happened to Blake is "maddening," she said.
"I'm glad he's alive, because he could have not made it, and it is maddening," Destiny Kitchen told KMBC-TV. When he was in the hospital, Blake told her, "'I don't want to die, Mommy. Please.' And watching him throw up every time he moved his head, the blood coming out of his ears, them not knowing there was spinal fluid coming out."
Kitchen added: "It is a nightmare. ... I'm terrified to send him back to school."