A video showed Louisiana teens taking a classmate's motorized wheelchair for a ride through the hallways inside a high school for a supposed senior prank.
The wheelchair belonged to Tay'Shawn Landry, a ninth-grade student at Abbeville High School in Abbeville, Louisiana. The school is part of the Vermillion Parish School District.
Landry has cerebral palsy. CP is a congenital disorder affecting body movement and muscle coordination which in turn affects speech—as the tongue is a muscle—and posture. CP alone doesn't affect cognitive abilities, but can sometimes be accompanied by brain trauma that does.
In the video, one student was seen riding around in Landry's wheelchair and making squealing noises in an apparent attempt to mimic his speech patterns.
You can see local news coverage—including a response from Vermillion Parish Superintendent Tommy Byler—here:
Landry's mother, Kimberly Mitchell, was furious.
She said her son was traumatized by the experience–though he was not present at the time the students gained access to his wheelchair for the stunt.
Mitchell, who is a single mother, wrote a post on Facebook.
“[Senior] Pranks are fun and all but when you make fun of my disabled kid and his belongings then IT BECOMES MY PROBLEM!”
“I don’t care who’s [sic] parents get upset but there will be consequences."
"I SAID WHAT I SAID! Y’all played with the wrong child & THE WRONG MAMA."
"Appreciate all the parents and students apologizing!"
"Take the as a learning experience, sometimes we think things are funny to us not knowing the damage it could do to someone else."
“As a mother, it hurt me to see my son upset and not wanting to go back to school because he took it as people making fun of him because he’s different."
Mitchell then asked people to consider her son's perspective.
"Step into his shoes and tell me how y’all would feel?"
"Yes , I’m angry! Yes, I know y’all joke and clown with him on a daily basis."
"The difference is those things he’s in talk presences, last night he wasn’t."
Landry also spoke about the incident.
He told KLFY:
“I was upset. I was mad. I was crying. I tried to stop myself from crying because I wanted to go to school."
"[I] couldn’t. I was just upset."
"Some people that I know. Some people that I go to school with and they want to turn their back on me and do this—that is not acceptable."
His mother also detailed the incident in a letter and included a photo of her son in the wheelchair.
"He was born this way, he didn’t ask to be this way."
"These days, people do any and everything to follow a trend. It was a senior trend that went too far."
“No, he wasn’t there when the prank occurred but to wake up and see the videos caused anguish."
“Sometimes things are done because we think it’s funny not knowing how it could make someone else feel. Nothing was funny about the situation because everyone who is commenting on the situation isn’t raising a kid or has a sibling, or family member with my son’s condition.”
"To them it seemed fun, but to my son it seemed as if he was being impersonated because of the things seen done in ‘HIS’ personal wheelchair."
Mitchell demanded the students involved in the prank be held accountable for their actions, including paying for any possible damages made to the $15,000 wheelchair.
“Right now we are hoping and praying that the chair is still mobile (not broken).”
Landry’s grandmother Marilyn Mitchell also spoke to the local news and described her grandson's experience living with the disability.
“His ambulation is horrible."
"He never stood. He had never walked in his life."
“Now he has scoliosis, making it even harder for him to move around."
"Let them see how it is to be on that floor on that cement going back and forth.”
In a statement, School Superintendent Tommy Byler said the unsupervised students got into the school using keys they got from an employee.
“Videos became available via social media that the students gained access into a locked room that housed an electric wheelchair on loan to an AHS student that uses it during the school day."
“Multiple students were seen riding through the halls on the wheelchair and displayed actions that were insensitive and disrespectful to students with disabilities."
The incident is under investigation.
The school said any disciplinary actions against students and/or faculty will remain confidential.