Originally created 03/31/03

Little has changed in year since boy's fatal beating



BLUFFTON, S.C. - A year ago last Friday, Francisco Belman went to school.

It was the eighth-grader's second day at H.E. McCracken Middle School. It would also be his last.

Eager to belong, the 14-year-old met two friends in the bathroom, apparently willing to be beaten by two boys to show he was worthy of friendship.

Six punches later, he collapsed. Ten weeks later, he died.

For many, life has gone on. Little has changed at the school or in the Beaufort County School District, where there had long been a zero-tolerance policy in place for violence of any kind.

For those boys and their families, however, those few minutes after lunch changed everything.

After weeks in a Charleston hospital, Francisco died at home June 10 without regaining his ability to tell his parents or police what happened March 28, 2002.

According to police reports, the other boys involved in the beating told authorities Francisco agreed to let them punch him in the chest several times as part of an initiation into their gang.

Halfway through, he went into cardiac arrest. School workers tried to revive him, and he was taken by ambulance to a Hilton Head hospital and then to the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

The other boys, a 13-year-old and a 14-year-old, were charged with second-degree lynching. After Francisco's death, they were also charged with involuntary manslaughter.

They are apparently being taught at home. Whether they are allowed to return to school may depend on how the criminal case against them is resolved.

The boys remain under house arrest while prosecutors prepare the case for court.

One change has taken place at the Beaufort County School District in the wake of the incident.

"We have begun a more comprehensive approach to tracking student disciplinary records and sharing that information as students move from school to school," district spokesman John Williams said.