Bullied teen's broken neck fear

MICHELLE DUFF
Last updated 05:00 14/03/2014
Nawl family
MAARTEN HOLL/Fairfax NZ

TROUBLED FAMILY: Joseph Nawl, 15, is in Wellington Hospital with a suspected broken neck. With him are sister Hlawn Nawl, 17, father Khua Kam Thang Nawl, and mother Far Can Uk. Joseph Nawl’s father’s health troubles were reported late last month.

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A teen is in hospital with a suspected broken neck after being punched unconscious and flung down an embankment by a classmate.

Police are investigating the circumstances of the daylight attack on Joseph Nawl, 15, a student at Porirua's Bishop Viard College, on Wednesday. Doctors at Wellington Hospital initially feared he could be paralysed.

They suspect he has a broken neck, but it remains too swollen for them to see clearly on X-rays.

His family, originally from Myanmar, do not want him or any of their other children to return to the school, where they say they have suffered racist bullying and no longer feel safe.

"Sometimes I wish we had never come to New Zealand, because I thought we would have a better life and education, but sometimes I feel like we're just here for people to bully us," his sister Hlawn Nawl, 17, said through her tears at his bedside in Wellington Hospital yesterday.

Bishop Viard principal Teresa Cargo said the "unfortunate incident" was an assault, not bullying. The two boys involved had been good friends and team-mates, and both families were distressed by what had happened.

The school had a "zero-tolerance policy" towards bullying, but at no time had Joseph or his family made any suggestion of "bullying or racial overtones".

From his hospital bed, Joseph said the last thing he remembered was having his face punched into the concrete.

"I thought he was going to pick me up, but he threw a punch on my jaw and then I just blacked out," he said.

He had had problems with bullying in the past, he said.

"I've told them [teachers] like three times, told them I've been mocked and bullied and stuff. But it doesn't stop."

Fairfax spoke to Joseph's father, Khua Kam Thang Nawl, last month. He had been diagnosed with lung cancer, after months of being treated with paracetamol during multiple doctor's visits at which Joseph was his only interpreter.

Khua Kam Thang Nawl's chances of survival are now slim. He is so weak that he has difficulty walking up stairs.

Police said they had begun an investigation because of the severity of the latest attack. They had seen CCTV footage of the incident, and any charges could depend on the hospital's assessment of Joseph's injuries.

Cargo said: "We are following set procedures and are still investigating. We do not condone violence and this was a random act completely out of character for the student involved.

"We have a growing number of refugee families in our community who have chosen to send their children to Bishop Viard College, and we are recognised in the wider Wellington region as a school which acknowledges and supports this cultural diversity."

A donation page for the Nawl family has been set up here.

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- The Dominion Post

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