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9 charged in school fight

First Byline: 
Anthony Garzilli

Six juveniles and three adult-aged were charged last week after a fight at Ridgeland-Hardeeville High, according to the Jasper County Sheriff's Office.
On Oct. 22, during dismissal, an altercation started near the buses and spilled into the cafeteria. County Sheriff Greg Jenkins said based on interviews the fight was likely gang-related.
The six juveniles were taken to the Department of Juvenile Justice in Columbia.
The charges range from simple assault, disorderly conduct and assault by a mob.
Jenkins said the investigation is ongoing, but it is believed the incident was premeditated.
"We know it was planned," Jenkins said. "It wasn't just that day, this started two weeks ago."
Jenkins said other charges are pending. He said his office received a call the following day about weapons possibly being on campus, but a search of the campus, including buses, found no weapons.
"We are not taking anything for granted," Jenkins said. "Our No. 1 job is public safety."
Jenkins said his office received a call from an officer needing assistance at about 3 p.m. last Tuesday.
The JCSO and Ridgeland Police Department responded. Jenkins said one student was punched in the face and another suffered a cut to his hand that required EMS attention. Six students had to be restrained by handcuffs and moved to the gymnasium.
"It makes your heart bleed," Jenkins said.
Jenkins said there were no serious injuries, but one deputy injured a knee and another hurt a hand, but the injuries were minor.
No school district personnel were injured, according to the county school district.
Jenkins said he doesn't know what exactly led to the fight, but based on statements from victims and other students he believes the incident was gang-related. He estimates the sheriff's office has identified at least four gangs in the county.
"These are known gangs, known throughout the country and known here in the county," Jenkins said. "Jasper County is not exempt from gangs, we are just not."
Last spring the county school board voted to have five school-resource officers (SRO). Additional officers were on campus Wednesday and Thursday. There were no classes last Friday.
"We are confident the schools are safe and we have officers on duty that will take care of anything that may arise," Jasper County School District spokesman Shellie Murdaugh said. "We are taking every caution."
Jenkins said parents were concerned about safety at last Friday night's home varsity football game.
Including the sheriff, the JCSO had seven officers at the game, patrolling the field and stands. There were no incidents at the game.
The Tuesday incident might have led to the game's small crowd, which included about 100 fans.
"There were parents who said we needed to be there, there's no doubt about it," Jenkins said.
Jenkins wants parents to be aware of possible gang activity. Some parents don't believe their child can be involved, but based on interviews with students, Jenkins believes parents aren't always aware.
"The parents say, ‘That's not what (my child) told me," Jenkins said. "We say, ‘Ma'am, we've got a statement that said this is what happened.' Parents need to be aware of what's going on."