LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - Police are investigating a case of terroristic threatening and harassing communications after receiving a complaint from a mother whose son was involved in a race-related incident at Lexington Catholic High School.
Brenna Angel, spokeswoman for Lexington police, said Thursday night that a 17-year-old male has been charged with harassing communications and terroristic threatening. She also said the case has been referred to the Fayette County Attorney's office.
Angel also said the Lexington Police Department has spoken with leadership from the local chapter of the NAACP and the parties involved.
"We are investigating possible charges of Harassing Communications and Terroristic Threatening," she said. "These charges do appear to have racial bias undertones."
The story was first reported Wednesday in the Key News Journal, and went viral.
The boy's mother Denisha Vinegar said her son, who was attending Lexington Catholic at the time, was a victim of harassment from one of his teammates on the football team. Vinegar discovered the messages after looking at her son's computer.
A series of group messages, which were provided to WKYT, detail a string of conversations about her son needing to turn in some money. Someone sent her son a message suggesting he "pick my cotton" or "sell crack" to get the money. The messages were dated from Feb. 16 to Feb. 22.
At one point, her son is asked whether he knows what "lynch" means.
“lynch means I’m gonna hang you bc you’re black and I just might,’’ the message says.
After taking her concerns to school officials, Vinegar said her concerns were not taken seriously. She decided to transfer her son to a public school. When she did, she said Lexington Catholic refused to release her son's transcript -- and they gave her a bill for $4,000 because they did not meet fundraising goals.
When asked about the situation, Lexington Catholic Principal Sally Stevens told WKYT that she could not discuss in detail matters involving students. Stevens referred a reporter to the school's code of conduct and said the situation was handled in accordance with their regulations.
Stevens declined to speak about whether the school had charged Vinegar or was holding onto the transcripts. She said she could not discuss financial situations.
Dr. Steve Angelucci, president of Lexington Catholic High School, told WKYT that school officials were meeting with the "appropriate people to gather all information possible so we can best address this matter."
Angelucci released a statement Thursday afternoon that said: "Last night an article appeared in social media about a hate crime occurring between two Lexington Catholic students. We met with all of our students today to discuss the dangers of offensive language and social media. We continue to thoroughly investigate the entire situation. The incident in no way reflects the culture or environment which Lexington Catholic High School promotes. We ask for your prayers for all the parties involved and for the entire Lexington Catholic school community."
Thomas F. Shaughnessy, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington, said the Diocese "is pursuing additional information, as the administration of Lexington Catholic High School addresses the situation."
“The Roman Catholic Church considers racism a sin and a violation of human dignity,” said Bishop John Stowe, O.F.M. Conv., head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington. “The Diocese of Lexington will not tolerate racism in any of its institutions or ministries and will work to root out remnants of racist attitudes and thinking wherever it is encountered.”
As Vinegar's story began spreading across social media the mother of another African-American Lexington Catholic student contacted WKYT to say her son had also been the target of racial harassment by other students.
"It impacted my son so drastically that when I would pick him up from school he would just be depleted, head in his hands, upset," said Ali Robinson.
Robinson said her son had been excited to attend Lexington Catholic for his freshman year, but that excitement soon faded.
"They would say 'Thank you for making a shirt for us,' 'Cotton picking,' 'You need to be in a field,' 'You are only one third of a person,'" Robinson said describing some of the insults which her son told her he received.
"The final straw for me was when a student threatened to burn a cross in his yard. He let my child know his parents and grand parents were KKK," she said.
Robinson said she had talked to administration but ultimately decided this would be her son's only year at the school.
She hopes these incidents cause a serious discussion about the treatment of others.
"Not just the children being impacted from the racial perspective and harassment, but the children who's doing this racial harassment, because they need to understand that is not the best practice and it could quickly end up in litigation in the real world," she said.
Lexington Catholic administrators have not yet responded to questions about Robinson's statements.
In a statement released through an attorney Thursday night, Vinegar said:
"The Vinegar Family is appreciative of the thoughts and prayers that have flowed forth following the recent reports of the racist threats to lynch a minor in our family who had attended Lexington Catholic High School until this week. We are saddened and disheartened that a faith-based school where our time and treasure had been entrusted has turned on us to the point of withholding a transcript, demanding more money, and accommodating a bully – apparently in retaliation against us for reporting what is being investigated as a hate crime. It is a sad day when a 17-year-old, amid Confederate flags and other taunts, threatens to lynch a 14-year-old football teammate after days of other racial harassment, while professing in text messaging that he will noose him with a chain rather than a rope because he is black. Facing intransigence from exponents of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Lexington, we have retained a federal civil-rights attorney based in Washington, D.C., who is representing us for full, federalized recourse. In this time of extreme duress, we thank the community for respecting our privacy as we look to the Lord for ultimate guidance.”