Black West Virginia basketball player finds drawing of himself in noose before game

The drawing in the locker room showed a stick figure hanging from a rope with the teenager's name next to it, his mother said.

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By Minyvonne Burke

A black West Virginia basketball player said he found a drawing of a stick figure in a noose with his name next to it in the locker room of a rival school.

Before Jace Colucci, a student at Westside High School in Clear Fork, stepped onto the court Friday to play against Wyoming East, a high school in New Richmond, the 17-year-old found the image on a bulletin board, the family's attorney, Sean Cook, told NBC News.

The drawing was of a stick figure hanging from a rope with the face colored in. An arrow pointing to the figure was labeled "Jace."

Cook said they are exploring what options they have under federal and state law.

Deidre Cline, Superintendent of Wyoming County Schools, said in a statement Thursday that the drawing is under investigation.

"Wyoming County Schools takes all reports of bullying or harassment, of any kind, very seriously," Cline said. "We have zero tolerance for any form of bullying or harassment. The drawing and its origin will be investigated, thoroughly, and any necessary action will be taken. Wyoming County Schools values every student!"

Cline said the police were notified, and if the prosecutor determines the incident is a hate crime, the district will "support that finding and take any appropriate action."

"We will work to thoroughly assist and cooperate in every way with the investigation," she said.

Cook said that under West Virginia law, local school boards must adopt anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies to address the incident and prevent it from escalating or occurring again.

He said this is the second time Jace, who is the only African American on his school's basketball team, has been targeted.

In February 2019, a Snapchat video surfaced of Wyoming East High School students chanting "hang Jace, hang Jace," according to Cook. Jace's mother, Erica Colucci Ayers, reported the incident and was told by the school board that the students responsible were caught and punished.

Cline said in a statement that the video was investigated, but the school district and the sheriff's office could not definitively determine what the students chanted.

"Jace is a brave young man for coming forward after enduring repeated acts of bullying and racial harassment," the family's attorney told NBC News in a phone interview. "He realizes the importance of coming forward so something like this doesn't happen again to not just him, but others."

Following the noose incident, Colucci Ayers told NBC affiliate WVVA in Bluefield she feels like the school board has failed her son.

"Not only do I think they've failed my son, I think they've failed all of the students," she said.