Members of New Jersey’s Phillipsburg High School wrestling team who took a controversial picture of themselves wearing hoods surrounding a Black wrestling dummy with a noose wrapped around his neck will not face criminal charges, said Warren County prosecutor’s office on Thursday.
The wrestlers — Andrew B. Horun, Tyler Agans, Jimmy Schuitema, Tim Hinkle, Broderick Bupivi, Daniel Wissing, Tyler Petchonka, Garrett Wolfinger, who are all White—apologized for the racial undertones of the inflammatory image, but insist that no harm was intended.
The teens insisted the hanging dummy was intended to depict a suicide, not a lynching, and that their punishment—a wrestling season cut short—was too harsh.
The photo shows seven of the boys posing around the wrestling dummy wearing a Paulsboro High T-shirt and a Kittatinny High singlet and hanging with a rope around its neck. Two of the boys wore hoods pulled over their heads in a point.
The eight boys were suspended three days and banned from wrestling in the postseason, starting with today’s District 1 tournament at Phillipsburg.
“It’s a case of youthful exuberance,” Wilhelm said. “They were the best team Phillipsburg’s had in 40 years, and they were celebrating themselves.”
The suicide note, according to Wilhelm, read, “To Whom It May Concern. The Kittatinny singlet was enough. The (Paulsboro) T-shirt pushed me over the edge.”
Wilhelm said at the time the teens did not understand the inappropriateness of the image they created.
If they were 25, 26, that criticism would be justifiable,” Wilhelm said. “But they’re 15 or 16. Face it — kids at that age do stupid stuff.”
See the team’s apology below:
Though the teens put on their best innocent faces, some members of the community did not buy their story.
“I don’t know what they were thinking,” said Loretta Winters, president of the N.A.A.C.P.’s chapter in Gloucester County. “Who hangs anybody by a noose? And points the hoodie into a tent to look like the Ku Klux Klan?”
The Warren County prosecutor’s office worked with the Phillipsburg police department to investigate the possibility of criminal activity involved with the highly problematic and racial photo.
They concluded, in agreement with the state attorney general, that the criminal investigation is now closed and that the incident is now solely in the hands of Phillipsburg High officials.
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