Jackson County

Moss Point schools settle suit over death of allegedly bullied 7th-grader

Lorel Malone
Lorel Malone

The Moss Point School District has settled a lawsuit over the death of a seventh-grader, which his parents alleged occurred because school officials failed to stop students from bullying the boy over his religion, U.S. District Court records show.

Lorel Ka’heim Malone, 12, died March 7, 2014, one day after one or more students who had bullied and harassed him since January “attacked and assaulted him,” according to the lawsuit filed by Lorel’s father, Dominic Malone, and mother, Lakenisa Nobles.

The financial terms of the settlement are confidential.

Malone and Nobles filed the suit seeking unspecified damages for Lorel’s death and future lost wages, attorney’s fees, funeral expenses, and their own pain and suffering. They sued the Moss Point School District and board, former Magnolia Middle School principal Joanne Pettaway and former School Superintendent Maggie Griffin for depriving Lorel of his civil rights.

Griffin was later dismissed as a defendant.

Walter Dukes, an attorney for the school district, declined to comment.

The death

Lorel collapsed on a school floor after the alleged attack and was unconscious when paramedics found him. He died the following day at the University of South Alabama Children’s & Women’s Hospital of what the suit described as injuries “sufficient to trigger the onset on a fatal health crisis involving his heart.”

The family’s attorney, Ed Blackmon of Jackson, said Lorel died of an undetected heart condition brought on because of stress Lorel endured.

The school district, Griffin and Pettaway had denied any wrongdoing.

Asking for help

Malone’s father had twice met with Pettaway about the alleged harassment, and was scheduled for a third meeting the day after Lorel died, the suit said.

The family said the Lorel suffered the abuse from the time he started school at Magnolia in January 2014.

Lorel was a deeply religious child, the suit said, and he often handed out crosses, pictures of angels and what he described as a slogan against bullying, “Be a hero, take a stand.” He was also bullied, the suit said, because of his clothes, size and appearance.

Lorel’s father and grandmother met with Pettaway on several occasions, the suit said, to describe the bullying and to ask for help. Pettaway reportedly told the family she would “get to the bottom” of what was going on. Lorel was later moved to another class while the students they say bullied Lorel apparently suffered no consequences.

The move, the suit said, “did nothing more than stigmatize” Lorel and make things harder for the him.

“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,” the suit said.

Lorel had also begged his family to stay home from school because of the continued bullying.

Margaret Baker: 228-896-0538, @Margar45