HAMPTON COUNTY, Sc. (WSAV) – Hundreds of people from the Hampton County community gathered at a funeral home Wednesday to say goodbye to 11-year-old Toni Rivers, a 6th grader at Hampton Elementary School who shot and killed herself just one week earlier.
“The mindset that you know, sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never hurt you… people who have that mindset, it’s got to stop,” said Maria Peterson, Toni’s aunt.
Toni’s family says she was a ray of sunshine, but words of hate made everything go dark.
“She was ugly, she was fat, she looked like a man….” her mother listed a few of the names she was called.
“Words destroyed her. And all the words that we had for her of love and support, weren’t enough to overcome the damage,” Petersen said.
Toni’s mom, Amy Rivers Thomas, says she contacted the school’s prinicipal three times about her daughter being bullied in school and online, often by the same girl.
“All they could say was I’ll investigate. That was her words every time I spoke to her, I’ll investigate it,” she said.
The last time she complained was just two days before they found Toni had shot herself after school Wednesday. She was just 11 years old.
“I can’t let it go, even if Toni would have wanted me to, because I can’t hold mine no more…” Rivers said.
The school district’s superintendent told News Three that the Sheriff’s Office is currently in charge of the investigation, and the principal would not comment. The family said the South Carolina Law Enforcement division was speaking with other families of children that came forward.
“So many kids have stepped forward since then and said that this little girl bullies them as well,” said Thomas.
As a community gathers to say their last goodbyes at the funeral home just one week after, there’s a roar for change.
“If we have to change laws, if we have to change the way we think, it’s got to go, it’s got to change,” Petersen said, “We cannot continue to allow our school systems to turn a blind eye to bullies. It just cannot happen anymore.”
The family plans to work on a new law to hold schools accountable for bullying.
Even in tragedy, comes purpose. Toni was a fighter from the womb, born three months premature at 2 lbs and 4 oz. The very organs they said would never last–saved five other lives.
The family will be holding a vigil to remember Toni and bring awareness to the tragedies caused by bullying. It will be at Wade Hampton High School, Sunday, November 3rd at 6:30 p.m.