AN ELDERLY WOMAN leaned against a fence across from the high school in Wilmington where a 10th-grader reportedly was beaten to death last week by some other students.
I couldn't see the senior citizen's face, because she had her head and shoulders down. But as I passed her Monday, the woman wailed, "Lord, what are we going to do?"
What are we going to do?
Her outpouring of grief and frustration sums up the feelings of a community deep in mourning over the loss of 16-year-old Amy Inita Joyner-Francis of New Castle, Del.
The news of her death following a fight in a school restroom sent shock waves through parents and students everywhere. The hashtags #ripamy and #amyinita are all over social media. What made what happened last week even more tragic was that Amy hadn't been the fighting type. A pretty girl with long braids, she favored blue candy and planned to become a dental technician - a dream that will never be realized now.
Rampant speculation on social media and elsewhere is that the altercation involved at least one other female student. An apparent screen grab showing an unidentified person fighting someone who fits Amy's description has circulated online for days. Authorities haven't verified whether the image does indeed record Amy's final moments.
I really, really hope that it's fake and that the last image the world has of that poor girl isn't of her fighting for her life in a bathroom. The thought that another student would stand by and record a vicious assault is sickening.
I know this kind of thing happens all the time, judging from all of the girl-fight videos you see on YouTube and such, but recording a brutal attack shows a level of coldness and depravity that frightens me. You have to be sick and extremely disconnected from reality to do something like that.
"They say it was over a boy. As therapists, we know that these things that are present on the surface never are the root of the problem," said Argie Allen, director of clinical training in couple and family therapy at Drexel University. "The issues always go deeper than that. It saddens me. It also disgusts me ...
"We as a community have to find ways to engage our young people and have real conversations with them about what's going on in their hearts, minds, souls, and spirits," added Allen, who is also a relationship therapist. "There's a real silent tsunami brewing on the inside with these kids, and the way it plays out is how they are interacting with one another in the streets, in the schools, in their communities, and certainly in themselves."
There's nothing new about girls getting into physical conflicts. I remember one mean little girl beating me up when I was in elementary school and my mother calling the school the next day to complain to the principal, who expelled the girl.
But fighting in a restroom to the point that another student winds up having to be airlifted to a local hospital? That kind of savagery makes my head spin. Amy, from what I've heard, was a lovely young lady, a conscientious student.
"If other people got into fights, she would try to break them up," said Alexandria Rogers, a Howard High School student and a friend of Amy's. "She would try to make sure that they didn't get into fights. She was not in the mix. She would just stay with a group of friends. She would not be with the whole drama."
Alexandria was stunned to learn of her longtime friend's passing, "because she was not a fighter. She would not fight over something dumb."
On Monday night, Wilmington Police Chief Bobby Cummings assured a tense crowd of a couple of hundred parents, alums, and students at a gathering near Howard High that arrests were imminent.
"We are looking at three individuals," he said. "We know there will be charges filed."
That will be but a small comfort to Amy's grieving family. Family spokeswoman and Wilmington Councilwoman Sherry Dorsey Walker told me, "They are coping and relying heavily on their faith and each other."
Qawi Muhammad left the meeting visibly frustrated. He has two daughters at the school and the younger is so terrified that she doesn't want to go back. He told me, "I will take them, and I'll keep talking to them, and that's all I can do."
That's really all any parent can do.