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Attack on Calabasas boy probed for tie to Facebook group

L.A. County sheriff's detectives are investigating Friday's beating of a 12-year-old as possibly being tied to a message targeting redheads.

November 22, 2009|By Anna Gorman

Los Angeles County sheriff's detectives are investigating an assault on a 12-year-old middle school boy in Calabasas who may have been targeted after a Facebook group urged students to beat up redheads, a sheriff's official said Saturday.

The boy was kicked and hit in two incidents on the campus of A.E. Wright Middle School by as many as 14 of his classmates, Lt. Richard Erickson said. The students who participated in the attack may have been motivated by a Facebook message telling them that Friday was "Kick a Ginger Day," Erickson said.

"Ginger" is a label given to people with red hair, freckles and fair skin, Erickson said, adding that the victim has red hair. He said the Facebook message may have been inspired by an episode of the animated television show "South Park." An episode in 2005 focused on prejudice against "gingers" after one of the characters said people with red hair, light skin and freckles have no souls and suffer from a disease called "Gingervitus."

The incident in Calabasas occurred about 8:30 a.m. Friday. The boy sought help from the school nurse, who contacted the principal. Sheriff's officials arrived on campus shortly afterward. "He was accosted by seventh- and then eighth-graders," Erickson said. "He was kicked and hit with fists in various areas of the body."

No arrests have been made. Detectives are investigating the incident as a possible assault with a deadly weapon. The boy's injuries were not severe. His name was not released because he is a juvenile.

Deputies believe there may have been other victims but no other students have come forward. The school's principal, Kimmarie Taylor, could not be reached for comment.

Sheriff's investigator Scott Rule said after the incident he contacted other schools in the area and learned that school officials had heard about the rumor. "Nobody thought it was going to be this serious," he said.

One A.E. Wright parent, Steve Bernal, said he was told that teachers led discussions in their classrooms about discrimination. Bernal said he was upset about what had happened but glad that the school responded so quickly. He said he was concerned about how the Internet may have motivated the students involved.

"How does this happen off of Facebook?" he said. "Doesn't Facebook monitor these groups that are being created?"

Facebook spokesman Barry Schnitt said the network relies on its more than 300 million users to report problems with groups or events. Staff members then follow up to see if groups should be removed or reported to law enforcement, he said. Schnitt said he had not been made aware of this specific message or group.

"Inciting violence against any individual or group is against what we stand for and our policies," Schnitt said.

In addition, Schnitt reminded users that they must be 13 to have a Facebook account.

Mathy Wasserman, co-president of the parent faculty club, said she did not know details about the incident but said she trusted the school officials to respond appropriately.

"I have confidence and faith in the school's ability to handle this," she said. "A discipline matter is not for the court of parents' hearsay and rumor to be decided."

Last year on the same day, several similar incidents occurred in Canada, according to media reports.

anna.gorman@latimes.com

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