BLUFFTON, S.C. - Two boys accused of punching an eighth-grader until his heart stopped wanted to be the boy's friend, police said.
Francisco Belman, 13, of Bluffton, remained in critical but stable condition at a Charleston hospital Monday, four days after he was beaten in the chest in what Bluffton police call a "new school" initiation.
Two pupils, 13- and 14-year-old boys, were to be suspended from H.E. McCracken Middle School and might be expelled for inappropriate school behavior and assault, Principal Richard Hitch said.
So far, no criminal charges have been filed, because Francisco, a new student at the school, was apparently willing to be hit, Bluffton Police Chief John Brown said.
"Being as it was voluntarily initiated, that's the problem we're having," Chief Brown said.
Police have not been able to get Francisco's side of the story because he hasn't regained consciousness since collapsing at the school. The solicitor's office told police to wait to hear more about the boy's medical condition before filing charges, Detective Patrick Blankenship said.
Thursday was Francisco's second day at McCracken after transferring from Hilton Head Middle School. Police, school and town officials all downplayed rumors that the assault was part of a gang initiation and said it was the first such incident they know of at the school.
"Allegations of gang activity have been addressed in the investigation and it has been determined that no other students, other than the two, were involved in the initiation," Chief Brown said. "There are no indications of gang or gang-related activity in the Bluffton schools."
Francisco was standing in a restroom when one of the two boys began hitting him quickly with a closed fist, Chief Brown said. Francisco was struck in the chest six times before he fell to the floor and went into cardiac arrest, he said.
Francisco never called for help, Chief Brown said.
Emergency workers got Francisco's heart started again, and the boy was rushed to Hilton Head Medical Center & Clinics. He was later flown to Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, where he remained in the pediatric intensive-care unit.
Bluffton Town Manager Bruce Behrens said the parents of other pupils had been calling, wondering whether it was safe to send their children to school. He said the assault does not seem to be related to any "other activity or misbehavior."
"It's safe to send your child to school," he said. "From everything we've been able to gather, it's an isolated incident."