A disturbing video that shows a teenage cheerleader seemingly being forced to do the splits and screaming in pain has sparked a police investigation. The cheerleader in question is Ally Wakefield, a 13-year-old student at East High School in Denver, Colorado; the incident was reportedly filmed during a June training camp.
According to an email that Wakefield’s mother, Kirsten, sent to local NBC news affiliate KUSA, Ally injured her leg in the incident. All of the team members were forced to do the splits at the camp and practices, “unless they had a doctor’s note.”
Ozell Williams, the cheerleading coach behind the forced split, was a recent hire for East High School.
In a statement released Wednesday, Denver Public Schools Superintendent Tom Boasberg called the footage “extremely distressing,” adding that it was “absolutely contrary to our core values as a public school community.” Boasberg went on to say that the school’s principal, assistant principal, cheer coach and assistant cheer coach have been placed on leave, for the purpose of assisting investigations. He stressed that the decision was not an indication of their guilt.
Boasberg released another statement on Thursday with an update on the investigation:
“We have sent notification to our athletic directors emphasizing that DPS does not allow the use of “forced splits” or any other activity that puts a student’s physical or mental health at risk, or in which a student is forced to perform an exercise beyond the point at which they express their desire to stop. I want to reiterate that this applies not just to athletics, but throughout our school communities.
This morning, counselors at East, with our district support team, worked with all the members of the cheer team—to bring them together as a team, to address the students’ concerns, and to emphasize our commitment to their safety and well-being. Deputy Superintendent Susana Cordova and I also personally called the parents of every member of the East cheer team to offer support and answer their questions.
We know how deeply concerned our community is about the events that took place. We are reviewing the supports and resources currently in place for both students and educators, and we will propose additional efforts to ensure our school communities are educated about, and empowered to prevent, traumatic situations such as those depicted in the videos of East cheer practice.”
Sonny Jackson, a spokesperson for the Denver Police, told Buzzfeed News that the situation was “brought to our attention,” but the investigation is still underway. “We have a lot of interviews to conduct,” Jackson said. “We’re still looking into it at this time.”