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Claremont Parents Say Boy’s Hanging Was ‘Backyard Accident’

  • An 8-year-old Claremont, N.H., resident suffered rope burns after an Aug. 28, 2017, incident involving teenagers. The incident is under investigation. (Courtesy photograph)



Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, September 25, 2017

Claremont — The parents of a teenager involved in last month’s hanging incident that injured an 8-year-old Claremont boy said it was “a complete backyard accident,” and not a racially motivated attack as the boy’s family has claimed.

In an interview published Saturday on the website of Newsweek magazine, Eric Sullivan and Rhianna Larkin acknowledged that their son attempted to prank the younger boy, who they said was startled and jumped off a picnic table with a rope around his neck.

But Larkin denied that her son pushed the younger boy and said her son came to the boy’s aid once he was dangling by his neck, and that the children involved were apologetic afterward.

“He said, ‘I ran to him and tried to stop him from spinning.’ He said, ‘I grabbed around his legs and at that time, the rope had come loose and I noticed he opened his eyes,’ and then he was able to talk and stand,” Larkin said in the interview. “And (my son) said he couldn’t apologize enough. Everyone was apologizing.”

The parents’ accounts, made public for the first time, contradict those of the injured boy’s family. The incident has drawn national attention and roiled the community.

“The articles that say they ran and left him to die,” Larkin said. “It makes me sick, so sick. I can’t imagine anyone doing that.”

Sullivan and Larkin, who are not in a relationship, said their families have been threatened and harassed since allegations emerged related to the Aug. 28 incident.

“I reported the threats to the police, and they said that these investigations can take months, and the only way I could protect myself and my children is to seriously consider relocating,” Larkin told the magazine. “I can barely afford where I live right now and I have no savings, so there is no possible way for me to relocate.”

She said her son told her he’d never directed racial slurs at the injured boy, as his family claims.

“Absolutely not,” she said.

Larkin said her son admitted they had been playing with the rope, with each older boy putting it around his neck.

Sullivan said there was no mention of racial taunting when police interviewed the families involved soon after the incident.

“I don’t think any of it is coming from (the boy),” he said. “I think it’s all coming from the grandmother and the mom. ... I was there when the cops questioned them and there was no mention about any of this. (The boy) had the same story as the (teens).”

The incident became public a few days after it occurred when the boy’s mother, Cassandra Merlin, posted a photo of his injuries and a version of events to a Claremont Facebook page.

In a subsequent interview, the injured boy’s grandmother, Lorrie Slattery, said the alleged hanging occurred after the teens began calling her grandson racial epithets and threw sticks and rocks at his legs. Some or all of the boys then stepped onto a picnic table, Slattery said, and grabbed a nearby rope that had been part of a tire swing.

Slattery said it wasn’t the first time the neighborhood teens used racial slurs against her grandson, adding she heard the term “lynched” was used during the incident.

Slattery told the Valley News that no adults witnesses what happened, so her account was largely pieced together from children, including the injured boy and his sister.

Sullivan, 32, told the magazine that the incident took place shortly before 5 p.m. on Aug. 28, when the boy and a group of neighborhood teens were playing by Sullivan’s home near Barnes Park. Sullivan and Larkin live about a mile apart, according to Newsweek.

Larkin said her son was daring another teen to climb a tree when he saw the 8-year-old boy standing on the picnic table.

She said her son initially did not notice the rope was around the younger boy’s neck because it was obscured by the boy’s hooded sweatshirt.

Unaware of the rope, she said, her son then decided to sneak up on the boy.

Larkin told the magazine her son jumped onto the table and yelled “Gggggrrrrrr,” and the startled boy jumped off, hanging himself.

Sullivan said it wasn’t true that the other teens fled the yard and left the boy dangling.

“The boys weren’t there; they were on the other side of the fence at (Barnes Park),” he said. “They couldn’t even hear or see him.”

After the injured boy was flown to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, Larkin said, her son had a “nervous breakdown.”

“He sat down on his bed with his head in his hands,” Larkin said. “And I went in and closed the door and talked to him for a while and he said, ‘Mom, I was just trying to scare him and make a joke. I had no idea he had tied the rope around his neck.’ ”

A phone message left for Sullivan wasn’t returned on Sunday. Past attempts to reach him for comment also have been unsuccessful.

A phone call to Slattery on Sunday also was not returned.

Claremont Police Chief Mark Chase previously confirmed his department is investigating the incident. However, few details can be released, he said, because the juveniles are involved.

Chase on Sunday reiterated that position, saying he “still can’t give any information about it.”

“I don’t have anything further that I can add,” he said.

In a news release earlier this month, Chase said detectives “are taking all steps possible to investigate the incident and have been doing so since police became involved in the matter in late August.”

Gov. Chris Sununu has instructed the state Attorney General’s Office to send a team as needed to Claremont to “provide assistance” in the investigation.

As to whether Larkin or Sullivan reached out to police regarding threats, Chase said he wasn’t sure.

“I can’t say they have, I can’t say they haven’t,” he said. “They have not reached out personally to me. I don’t know if they’ve called Claremont PD.”

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.