Family Says Their Son Is Victim Of Hate Crime At Laguna Beach High School
LAGUNA BEACH (CBSLA.com) — By the time Cathleen Falsani and her husband, Maury Possley, met eight-year-old Vasco in Africa, he had lived most of his life as a street kid in Malawi.
The couple cleared all the bureaucratic hurdles and brought their adopted son home.
Now nine years later, the Laguna Beach family thought their worst battles were behind them. They were wrong.
"Now every time he leaves the house, I have a pit in my stomach that twists until I hear from him again," Falsani said.
Last month, police said five of Vasco's classmates at Laguna Beach High School drove up to his house and hurled a watermelon along with racial slurs.
Police looked at the security video, questioned the teens, filed their case and handed it to Orange County probation.
But they will not call it a hate crime. But Vasco's parents clearly believe it is.
"There's a watermelon thrown at the home of a black student - one of very few at the high school along with the racial epithet. How was that not a racist incident?" Falsani asked.
The security tape police will not release apparently shows the students laughing as they bought the watermelon at a Ralphs in Laguna Beach minutes before they tossed it at the family's house.
Vasco's parents said four of the five teens caught on video were so identifiable, police caught up with them easily. When officers questioned the students, they confessed, according to the parents.
"All five had admitted to participating in it. They were chanting our son's name as they drove from the store to our home. As they drove away, one of them chanted an obscenity and 'n' word," Possley recalled.
In a letter to parents, the Laguna Beach Unified School District announced it was cooperating with police and would "handle those involved to the fullest extent possible."
The students were suspended for five days, which the family said was a slap on the wrist. Last Friday, Falsani said the school did not warn them about the teens returning to school.
"How could they not tell us and just assume that we knew the boys were going to be back in school. We didn't have a chance to prepare Vasco," his mother said.
She immediately called her son. "Honey, I'm so sorry the boys are back. He said I know. I've seen them all. He was the closest to angry to verbally angry he's been since this happened. He said: 'Five days mom? Really five days? Do they not even care?'" Falsani recalled her son saying.
Vasco's parents said two of the students involved in the crime made racist comments to him a year ago, and the school district has not responded to their pleas to address racism.
The district did not return CBS2's Stacey Butler's phone calls and declined to speak with her in person.
Instead in an ironic twist, Vasco's parents said a student film, approved by a student adviser, was shown in many classrooms and posted on the Laguna Beach High School website last week, then removed.
The film shows white students, wearing masks and holding baseball bats, kidnapping a black student and throwing a pillow case over his head.
"Really? What do we have to do to help you find what you're supposed to be doing, and the way you're supposed to be handling this?" Vasco's mom asked with frustration in her voice.
So far, the Orange County District Attorney's Office has not filed any charges.
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