They started picking on Billy Wolfe in elementary school. In middle school, the assault of vicious words was joined by fists. In high school, it's the same.
When bullies in one Arkansas community, feel the need to beat somebody up, they look for Billy Wolfe.
“I’m not completely sure,” the 16-year-old boy said on Wednesday on TODAY when asked why his life has been one of black eyes, cuts and bruises.
With his mom, Penney Wolfe, at his side, the Fayetteville, Ark., student watched as videos play. One shows a bully jumping him on the school bus and slamming his head against the window. Another, taken by a bully’s accomplice, shows a kid getting out of a car at Billy’s bus stop, walking purposefully up to him, and slugging him in the face.
“They get away with it, so they think they can just keep doing it,” Billy told TODAY co-host Matt Lauer. “I don’t really know what started it. Maybe ’cause I moved here in elementary school and it followed me all the way to high school.”
His mother echoes his words.“I honestly don’t know,” she said. “From the first assault when the kids didn’t get in trouble, they thought it was okay. They thought, ‘He’s a good target, he’s an easy target, and it’s okay to hit him because we’re not going to get in trouble.’ ”
In addition to physical assaults, there has been cyber bullying that has ranged from an Internet posting that said, “Everyone hates Billy Wolfe,” to another accusing him of being gay.
His parents have pursued the normal avenues of redress, from talking to the parents of Billy’s tormentors to appealing to school officials. As the assaults have continued, they’ve finally resorted to hiring an attorney and suing at least one of the bullies. They’ve also gone public, telling Billy’s story to The New York Times, which played it on the front page of the newspaper.
Fayetteville school officials, citing privacy laws, say they can’t comment on the Wolfe’s allegations. Officials declined to appear on camera, telling TODAY that they have a no-tolerance policy toward bullying. “Unfortunately, from time to time these incidents will occur,” officials said in a statement, but, and when they do, the district aims for “fair treatment of all concerned.”
If only that were so, said the family’s attorney, Westbrook Doss, Jr., there would be no need for a lawsuit against one bully and the possibility of more suits against other bullies as well as against the school district. The family does not dispute that disciplinary action may have been taken against some of the kids involved in tormenting their son, but, they say, no one has ever been charged with assault despite the video evidence.
“I don’t think that’s happening in Billy’s case,” Doss said. “There may be other cases where they’ve responded appropriately. What we’re asking for is appropriate response.”
In fact, in The New York Times article, the Wolfes said that they were told after one attack that perhaps their son brought it on himself.
“These kids don’t get in trouble,” Penney Wolfe said. “They don’t have to stand accountable to the law for assaulting him.”
The family refuses to move to another school district. They want their son to learn to fight for his rights, and they are helping him to do that. But his grades have suffered and there are many days when he begs to be allowed to stay home and not go to school.
Billy, who likes to play the guitar, is not without friends. “They don’t pick on me when my friends are around, because I hang out with some big people, and they don’t mess with them.,” he said. “They get me while I’m alone, like waiting for the bus with my sister.”
Or, his mother added, like the time he was at his desk in shop class and another student blind-sided him with an unprovoked punch in the jaw that tore open the inside of his cheek.
Lauer asked Billy if telling his story to The Times and TODAY won’t make him even more of a target.
“I kind of already know, because my friends have told me that people aren’t happy with me at school, but what can you do?” he said with a shrug of resignation. “If they’re going to be unhappy, they’re going to be unhappy.”