Tacoma mother says 4-year-old non-verbal daughter was choked by school bus driver

TACOMA, Wash. — A Tacoma mother said her four-year-old non-verbal daughter was choked by her school bus driver.

On Tuesday, KIRO 7 News spoke with Charlene Massey, the mother of four-year-old Esmerelda, who attends Franklin Elementary School on S Lawrence Street in Tacoma.

Massey said she captured a photo of her daughter and her four-year-old niece, Million, Friday morning, who were both wearing matching Star Wars themed clothing, before they headed off to school.

“I was really happy because I did their hair like Princess Leia. They had matching shirts. I love theme days. It’s popcorn Friday. It was a good morning,” she said.

But the day quickly changed later that afternoon.

Massey said when she picked up her daughter and her niece at a bus stop at about 4 p.m., she saw bruises and scratches on her daughter.

“I immediately started crying,” she said. “I seen marks down her face, hand marks around her neck, scratch marks on her chest. After taking take off her clothes, I seen punch marks on her back, back of her head. Pretty much in depth, very fresh-looking marks.”

“This is every autistic non-verbal’s mom’s biggest fear. Dropping them off at somewhere they’re supposed to be safe, and then finding them with injuries or something happening to them, and you can’t ask what happened,” she added.

The mother said she immediately called police and an ambulance, and drove to Franklin Elementary School to speak with the principal and her daughter’s teacher.

She said Esmerelda’s teacher told her another had student caused the injuries, but later changed her response when she spoke with police.

Massey’s niece, who was also on the bus, told police what she had witnessed, she said.

“She said the bus driver grabbed her. When we asked how, she said like this (Massey places her hand around her neck),” she said.

“I said, ‘Has this happened before?’ And she said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Is she mean to you guys?’ She said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘Don’t lie. Make sure you’re telling the truth to the police officer because it’s important. She said she grabbed her because she kept getting out of her seat belt,” Massey shared.

Massey told KIRO 7 News that she previously talked with the bus driver about the same issue days before the alleged incident.

“The week before, the bus driver was concerned because she (daughter) kept getting out of her seat belt. And she wanted to know what we could do about it because she said she can’t keep pulling over the bus every few minutes to put her back in her seat belt,” she said.

The mother later took her daughter to a hospital to get her injuries looked at, she said.

The doctor told her the injuries were caused by an adult’s hand; Massey told KIRO 7 News.

We looked at a hospital document, which was dated Friday, May 3.

The document indicated a referral to the Child Abuse Intervention Department in response to Esmerelda’s injuries.

The child was seen due to concerns for an assault, the document wrote.

Massey said the school district never notified her about the injuries.

“I’m outraged that they wouldn’t inform me immediately,” she shared. “Immediately whoever seen it, it went through so many adults, the teacher, if it happened at school if they seen it, the bus driver seen it, all the other teachers and helpers that were standing outside had to have seen that. Not one adult took upon it themselves to call me and let me know anything about what had happened.”

KIRO 7 News reached out to Tacoma Public Schools to gather more details.

A spokesperson for the district shared the following statement:

“The district was notified of the parent’s concern. Video footage of the bus ride has been reviewed and there is no indication of an altercation involving the student or any other student and bus driver. We will continue to work with the parent. The safety of our students is a top priority, and we take parent concerns very seriously. We have no additional information at this time.”

We requested the bus’s video footage and asked if the district is investigating the alleged incident.

KIRO 7 News is waiting for a response.

We also reached out to the Tacoma Police Department.

A spokesperson said a detective reviewed the footage and did not find evidence of any altercation between students and the bus driver.

Massey told KIRO 7 News she is now requesting video footage from inside the school building to find the cause of her daughter’s injuries.

“For her to be so small, I couldn’t imagine what she could possibly do to deserve that,” she said.

Police said they will further investigate the alleged incident, if new evidence is revealed in any new security footage.

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