HILLSBORO, N.D. — The Traill County Sheriff's Office is investigating a video in which a male student in the Hillsboro School District is seen holding what appears to be a handgun and saying that he is hunting for Black people, though he uses a racial slur.
The student, who appears to be a white teenager, says in the video, "I'm hunting n*****s," before pretending to fire the gun and saying: "boom, boom, boom, boom."
The individual seen in the video is the son of Hillsboro School Board member Mary Mattson, according to Karl Benson, a parent who filed complaints with the school district and the sheriff's office over the video.
Paula Suda, superintendent of the Hillsboro School District, confirmed on Wednesday, Sept. 1, that the district received a complaint from a parent regarding the video, adding that the district had not taken any action and was waiting for the sheriff's office to complete an investigation into the video before deciding how to proceed.
Traill County Sheriff Steve Hunt said Wednesday his office received a complaint regarding the video on Tuesday and that an investigation was ongoing.
Hunt declined to go into detail about the investigation, or when it may wrap up, but added: "In a case like this we want it to be as soon as possible, but it all depends on how quick we can talk to those we need to talk to and get answers."
Hunt said the words heard in the video did not target any specific individual or individuals and he said the video also did not seem to indicate any violent action was imminent. Hunt said it was too early to say whether the investigation may lead to charges.
Benson said his daughter is a senior at Hillsboro High School and one of the few Black students in the district. He said he brought the video to the attention of the district and sheriff's office after his daughter told him about it. He said it had been circulating among students.
Benson said he's not interested in seeing the student in the video put in jail and he said whatever school repercussions may result are for someone else to decide.
He said he would like to know why the student in the video said what he said and did what he did in the video.
"My daughter is probably one of the only Black kids in that school," Benson said. "I just need to understand what the heck he (the teen the video) was thinking. For me, it's all about the safety of students."
The video, which was obtained and viewed by editorial staff at The Forum, is five seconds long and appears to have been made after dark around a campfire at an unknown location.
In addition to the teen with the gun, another person can briefly be seen sitting in a nearby chair and it appears a third person was filming the video.
As he makes the "boom, boom" sounds, the teen points the gun in several directions as he pretends to fire rounds.
Suda said it is not clear when the video was made, but she said it looks to have been shot over the summer.
"Not on school grounds. Nothing to do with the school, therefore that's why we're having the parents address it," Suda said. "No student was threatened directly, so we are going to let law enforcement take care of it and proceed from what they tell us."
The school district has about 450 Caucasian students, 10 African American students, 29 Hispanic students, 12 Native American students and five Asian students, according to the district's website.
Benson said after he saw the video he reached out by email to Mattson, a member of the Hillsboro School Board and, according to Benson, the mother of the teen who is the focus of the video.
Benson said Mattson replied to his email with a short message, stating she appreciated being made aware of the video.
In Mattson's reply, which Benson shared with The Forum, she said the behavior in the video was inexcusable and that she and her husband had discussed the matter with their son and it would not be an issue going forward.
Benson said it is clear the teen in the video "doesn't understand the historic nature of race in America," and he said the video was too "over the top" to be viewed as just joking around.
Lumping race with killing and hunting "is never a good joke," Benson said, adding that when his daughter and her friends saw the video, they knew it was wrong.
"For this kid not to know it was wrong makes me think: What's his deal? I do not believe it's something that can be washed away by someone's parent saying, 'We talked to him,''' Benson said, adding that he believes a deeper conversation would be valuable to all involved.
"I think this is the time and place where you can avoid trouble down the road; it's time to do it," he said.