updated 1/27/2009 4:00:39 PM ET 2009-01-27T21:00:39

A popular 12-year-old boy was struck and killed by a bus in front of his middle school as he apparently horsed around with friends before class, and officials have ruled the death a homicide.

Dakota Galusha had just been dropped off at Northampton Middle School by his mother Monday morning and was walking to the entrance with three or four friends when he fell under the rear wheels of a passing bus, said Northampton School District Superintendent Linda Firestone.

She said it appears Dakota and his friends were jostling one another, something she called "a natural interaction with middle school students."

"I have no evidence of intentional pushing of the student at all, at this point," she said Tuesday. "There may be pushing, but I don't know that there was a plot to harm."

Galusha died a short time after being hit. The Lehigh County coroner's office ruled his death a homicide after an autopsy.

Not necessarily a criminal act
A homicide ruling does not necessarily mean a criminal act occurred. The decision to file charges rests with Northampton County prosecutors, and District Attorney John Morganelli did not immediately return a phone call Tuesday.

First Deputy Coroner Paul Hoffman said Tuesday that interaction between Dakota and another student caused the boy's death. He would not be more specific but said that if Dakota had simply slipped by himself, his death would have been ruled an accident.

"There was an incident. I don't know what you want to term that, whether it was horseplay or fooling around," he said.

A spokesman for Dakota's parents, Kendall and Dina Galusha, said the family believes his death was accidental and did not wish to press charges.

Police were interviewing witnesses Tuesday. Classes were canceled Monday at the 950-student school north of Allentown, although many students stayed to receive counseling.

Dakota, who went by the nickname "Kota," played baseball, football and basketball and also liked to snowboard. He was a staunch New York Giants fan.

"He was fun; he talked a lot," 13-year-old Giovanna Dematteo, whose father was Dakota's football coach, told The Morning Call of Allentown.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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