April 23, 2010

Gay student won't return to high school

MCKEE, Ky. —- The mother of a gay teenager says her daughter won't return to Jackson County High School after an incident in which she claims three other girls tried to kill her.

Dee Johnson told The Lexington Herald-Leader her daughter, 18-year-old Cheyenne Williams, has enough credits to graduate and it would be unsafe for her to return to classes.

Two classmates, Ashley Sams and Corinne Schwab, who are both 18, are scheduled for arraignment Monday on attempted murder and kidnapping charges. The other girl implicated is a juvenile.

Williams says her classmates tried to push her off a cliff April 16, and Johnson says her daughter was attacked because she is gay.

Kentucky State Police, however, determined that the incident was not a hate crime.

"It began as a prank of some sort," said Kentucky State Trooper John Hawkins. "It definitely is not a hate crime."

In an e-mail to Jackson County schools officials on Friday, the Kentucky Equality Federation disputed that the incident was a prank and asked for assurances of safety for gay students.

The three suspects have long been friends with Williams, and school officials weren't aware of any problems among them before Friday, said Tim Crawford, an attorney for Jackson County High School.

The three suspects offered Williams a ride to a job interview Friday afternoon, Crawford said. During the ride, Williams found out the interview was being delayed by two hours, and the four then went instead to Flat Lick Falls.

Williams' family alleges that the three attacked Williams at the falls and tried to push her off a 50-foot cliff, state police said. The area of Appalachia is about 60 miles southeast of Lexington and borders the Daniel Boone National Forest.

Crawford said Williams' mother told him the girls forced her back into the car, took her home and threatened her not to say anything.

Johnson said her daughter was attacked because she is openly gay and that the attack was linked to a gay awareness event earlier in the day.

"It was a hate crime," Johnson said in a brief interview with The Associated Press at her home Wednesday.

Crawford said school officials learned about the incident when Dee Johnson complained to them on Monday.

He said some students at the high school last Friday recognized the "Day of Silence" anti-violence event promoted by the national Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Alliance, but he said the four girls were not involved.

He said some students protested the event by wearing stickers that said "Gay is not the way," but they were later confiscated.

Crawford said the four friends attended a senior trip with about 60 students to the Bahamas and Key West, Fla., at the end of March.

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