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A school in Virginia at first declined to press charges against a teenage girl who allegedly lit a classmate’s hair on fire—until the son’s outraged mother made her voice heard.

The incident occurred on Wednesday, Jan. 12 in the middle of class at John Rolfe Middle School in Henrico County. A teenage boy with shoulder-length hair was eating lunch with other students in the classroom due to COVID-19 protocols.

The mother, who asked not to be named, said when her son got up to throw his lunch tray away a female student followed him and flicked a lighter into his hair, causing severe burns that required hospitalization, according to WWBT.

“He was hysterical; he looked scared,” she said. “His pride emotionally and mentally is broken.”

While law enforcement described it as “non-life threatening,” the incident continues to threaten the mental stability of a mother’s son.

hair lit on fire virginia
NBC29 photo

Physical scars, mental trauma

Although the fire was quickly put out, her son suffered second and third-degree burns, with blistering and scarring on his head, ear and parts of his neck. His physical wounds are being treated at VCU Medical Center, but the emotional scars have yet to heal.

On at least one side of his head, hair that went down to his shoulders was burned to the scalp, causing mental turmoil for a teenager who takes pride in his appearance.

“All I could hear the teacher say over the phone was something is happening with my son,” the mother recalled.

A school resource officer at the school responded to the scene until the son and her mother were transported to a hospital.

Incredibly, even though the incident took place in front of several witnesses in the middle of lunch, school administrators didn’t initially seek criminal charges. 

hair lit on fire virginia
A student lit her classmate’s hair on fire on January 12, 2022. Henrico Citizen photo
A student lit her classmate’s hair on fire on January 12, 2022. Henrico Citizen photo

Mother forces justice, accountability

One school principal described it as a girl “playing with a lighter”, giving some the impression that it was an accident.

Adding weight to the insurmountable trauma inflicted on her son, the mother said the response from school officials broke her. At first the school attempted to downplay the incident, not wanting to press charges.

Yet, for a mother who rode in an ambulance with her burned son because of the random vicious act of a classmate, silence wasn’t an option.

“What if this was your child, what would you be, would you be livid would you be devasted how would you feel?” the mother asked. “Would you feel supported by Henrico County Schools?”

While the motivation or ethnicity of the alleged assailant is unclear, the case remains reminiscent of Emmett Till and other Black teens whose mothers were forced to pursue justice and accountability when the systems designed to provide it refused to do so.

Following the incident, John Rolfe’s principal sent a statement to parents.

“This is Ms. George, principal of John Rolfe Middle School. I’m calling to let you know about an incident that took place in your child’s science class today. A student was burned by a classmate who was playing with a lighter. The injured student was taken to the hospital and is receiving treatment. Here at school, we are reviewing the incident to ensure something like this does not happen again and taking appropriate disciplinary action as necessary. Thank you.”

Yet, the cookie-cutter statement was far from adequate for the son’s mother.

hair lit on fire virginia
The son’s mother. (She asked not to be named) WTVR photo
The son’s mother. (She asked not to be named) WTVR photo

Teen girl charged with “unlawful wounding”

“You can’t just brush this under the rug and think that it’s going to just go away, It’s not,” the mother said. “My son is severely hurt, he’s suffering and it’s not fair to me it’s not fair to him so y’all just need to be held accountable.”

On January 13, the Henrico Fire Marshal’s Office officially charged the teen girl who allegedly lit her classmates hair on fire with unlawful wounding. Meanwhile, county agencies are engaging in a joint investigation of the incident, according to Henrico Citizen.

Still, the case makes one wonder what would’ve happened had the mother remained silent about her son’s hair being lit on fire. It’s unclear how long her son will remain hospitalized, but it appears the emotional scars will remain long after his body has healed.

“Right now, I’m just blessed that I have him that I can talk to him that I can get him in good spirits that I can touch his hand that he can talk back to me I’m just happy he’s here.”

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Deon Osborne was born in Minneapolis, MN and raised in Lawton, OK before moving to Norman where he attended the University of Oklahoma. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Strategic Media and has...