GULFPORT — The video of three teenagers brutally beating a 13-year-old on a school bus has been broadcast nationwide, and many say they're outraged the juveniles might get off with probation.
But when you ask the victim's grandmother how the trio of 15-year-olds should be punished, she doesn't talk about probation or detention as much as she talks about understanding. What Patricia Yankey wants most is for those teenagers to fully understand what they did.
"If nothing else, they need to realize they could be up on murder charges," she said. "But by the grace of God they did not kill him. That's it. I mean, they could have killed him."
In an interview Friday at her Gulfport home, Yankey, 64, talked about the July 9 beating, the national attention that followed and how her grandson is coping.
Yankey and her husband have raised or helped raise the boy since he was born. She said he loves to fish, watch The Simpsons and the Tampa Bay Rays, and ride his bicycle. He earns extra money fixing bikes around the neighborhood. On the day he was beaten, he had $5 in his pocket he was going to use to buy an inner tube.
He was attending summer school at Lealman Intermediate School. That day, he was approached in a school bathroom by two teens trying to sell marijuana. He told a teacher.
On the school bus ride home, her grandson took his usual seat right behind the bus driver. The two teens who tried to sell him marijuana, plus one other teen, were further back, she said, but he could hear their threats.
They were saying "they were going to kill him, he wasn't going to get off the bus," she said.
At 20th Avenue S and 51st Street, the teens attacked, kicking him and stomping on him more than 20 times and breaking a bone in his hand, she said.
The beating was captured by a surveillance camera on the bus.
One of the teens took his $5. The bus driver radioed for help, and the boy's attackers leaped out the rear emergency door.
While many criticized the bus driver for standing by and not intervening, Yankey said she doesn't blame him because he was following policy.
But as a parent, she said, she would have tried to help.
Yankey learned of the beating when Lealman's principal called her and told her there had been "an incident" and that she should get to the bus. When she arrived, she saw him bruised and sitting on the steps of the bus. He wasn't crying, but tears were welling up.
She insisted he be taken by ambulance to All Children's Hospital, where they discovered his broken bone.
Yankey said it had been "a nightmare, just a nightmare to know that anybody can do this to another person."
As for her grandson, she said, "he doesn't want to admit it, but I know he's terrified.
"He won't sleep with the door shut. Got to have the light on. It's going to take a long time to come to grips with what's happened."
But, she added, "in another way he wants to act like, I'm fine, I'm tough, you know."
There have been a few bright spots. She said Gulfport police were helpful and even brought her grandson a bag of much-needed clothes and a McDonald's gift card. Because the family gets by on her disability check and her husband's Social Security, she said the assistance was appreciated.
With all the national publicity, people have been contacting Gulfport police and the media to ask how they can help the family directly. An account has been set up for contributions. Donations can be made in Patricia Yankey's name, as her grandson's legal guardian, at any Suntrust Bank to account number 1000 163 788 291.
Like thousands of other children in Pinellas County, her 13-year-old grandson was prepared this week for an annual rite — the first day of school.
"He went to the bus stop and came back. And he said, 'I can't do it.' And I said, baby, you don't have to do it."
He changed schools. And now she drives him.
"I don't know that he'll ever be able to get on a bus again," she said.
Curtis Krueger can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8232. Twitter: @ckruegertimes.