East Flatbush elected officials joined family members on Friday to mourn a 12-year-old boy who died after being assaulted at his school and demand answers from the city’s Department of Education, which they said has shown a “lack of transparency, accountability and communication” since the tragedy occured.
Though many details remain unknown, family says Vilsaint complained of headaches after he was jumped by two students on Wednesday, May 5th, and again on Thursday when he was hit in the back of the head by a peer who was allegedly paid a dollar by a classmate to carry out the deed. Vilsaint spent much of Thursday sick in the school nurse’s office, family said.
Vilsaint spent Friday at home, again complaining of head pains before beginning to lose consciousness. Relatives called an ambulance and Vilsaint was taken to Kings County Hospital, where he died.
There are no arrests, an NYPD spokesperson said, and a police investigation is ongoing. But family members say they haven’t received any communication from the school in a week, and are looking for answers about how administrators addressed the situation.
“We want to know what did the principal know, when did they know it and what did they do about it?” said Vilsaint’s uncle, Lamarre Vilsaint, on Friday.
“We want justice for Romy,” he said.
Though no official motive has been determined, local Assembly Member Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn and the family’s attorney Nicholas Papain said Friday they believe Vilsaint was subject to “ethnic bullying” because of his accent. Vilsaint emigrated from Haiti in 2017.
“Like many immigrants, Romy had an accent,” Bichotte Hermelyn said. “He was proud of his Haitian culture, and he was an excellent student. He was targeted because he was Haitian, because he had an accent, because he came from a different country.”
Bichotte Hermelyn and local Council Member Farah Louis called for an independent investigation into the school’s handling of the situation.
“Romy’s death was a preventable tragedy compounded by the lack of transparency, accountability and communication by the school,” said Louis. She also called on Mayor Bill de Blasio to create a “zero tolerance anti-bullying campaign.”
“It is inexcusable that after trusting their child to the care of the Department of Education, this family must plan his burial,” she said.
DOE spokesperson Nathaniel Styer told Bklyner in a statement that Romy was “a beloved member of the PS 361 community and this is an awful, heart-wrenching tragedy.”
“We understand from public reports that the Medical Examiner’s Office has stated that the student did not suffer physical trauma and that the cause of death is pending further study,” Styer said. “Our thoughts are with the family during this incredibly difficult time, and a full investigation is underway.”
But at Friday’s press event, it was clear that Vilsaint’s family was deeply unsatisfied with the Department’s handling of the situation.
“My family and I, we need an answer,” said Vilsaint’s aunt, Bertha Fausta, between tears. “We’re knocking on doors, no one opens for us. No one tells us nothing.”