7th-grader died because school failed to stop bullying over religion, lawsuit says

Lorel Ka’heim Malone, 12, died at the hands of bullies over his religious beliefs and appearance because Moss Point school officials failed to protect him, a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court claims.

Lorel’s father, Dominic Malone, and mother, Lakenisa Nobles, are seeking an unspecified amount of damages for Lorel’s life and future lost wages, funeral expenses, attorney’s fees, and their own pain and suffering. They are suing the Moss Point School District and board, Magnolia Middle School principal Joanne Pettaway and then-school Superintendent Maggie Griffin for depriving him of his civil rights and equal protection under the law.

Lorel died March 7, 2014, one day after one or more boys who had bullied and harassed him since January “attacked and assaulted him,” the lawsuit says. The seventh-grader collapsed to the school floor, where paramedics found him unconscious. He died the next day at the University of South Alabama Children’s and Women’s Hospital of what the lawsuit describes as “injuries sufficient to trigger the onset of a fatal health crisis involving his heart.”

His father had met twice with the school principal, and was scheduled to meet with her a third time about the alleged harassment the day after Lorel died, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit outlines continued abuse of Lorel, at the hands of other students, from the time he arrived at Magnolia in January 2014.

He was a deeply religious child, the lawsuit says. He handed out crosses, pictures of angels and what he considered a slogan against bullying, “Be a hero, take a stand.” He also was harassed over his size, clothes and appearance, the lawsuit says.

Lorel’s father and grandmother met with the principal in January to describe the repeated bullying, often in the boy’s math class, and ask for her help. The lawsuit says Pettaway told the boy’s relatives that she would “get to the bottom of the matter.”

Instead, the lawsuit says, Lorel was moved to another math class while the boys who bullied him suffered no consequences.

“The change of class did nothing more than stigmatize Lorel Ka’heim Malone and further complicated things for him,” the lawsuit says. “It gave every appearance that Lorel ... was the problem, instead of the boys who singled him out for retribution, solely because of his actions born as a result of his religious beliefs.”

Dominic Malone returned to the school in February to talk with the principal, who again promised to straighten things out, the lawsuit says. But the bullying continued. Lorel begged to stay home from school, the lawsuit says.

A bullying episode on March 2 prompted Dominic Malone to request the third meeting with the principal.

The lawsuit claims the indifference of the school district staff, coupled with a lack of training, ultimately caused Lorel’s death. A response to the lawsuit is expected from the school district.