COLUMBUS, Ohio – The plan was simple: Invite families feuding over problems between their fifth-grade sons to counseling sessions. But that went awry when the two families ran into each other in the parking lot, and yet another fight broke out -- this time between adults.
When it was over, the father of one of the boys was dead, and now a grand jury is investigating.
Police say the father, 29-year-old Franklin Jude, was struck in the face and fell, hitting his head on the pavement. He died five days later and was buried Monday.
"Frank went down on the pavement and smacked his head really, really hard," said Joanie Parsley, the mother of another student at West Broad Elementary School. "Frank didn't even have time to flinch -- that's how fast it was."
The coroner ruled Jude's death a homicide, but no charges have been filed. The case is under investigation, and a grand jury will hear evidence in the next few weeks.
The other man was Grant Reese, 23, the boyfriend of the second boy's mother. Reese insists he was defending himself and gave police his shirt covered with his own blood to prove he was hit.
"As soon as he was hit in the nose, he struck the fellow in the jaw, which caused him to fall over," said Reese's attorney, Steven Larson. "He said it was instantaneous -- 'I got hit, I hit back."'
Events leading to the Oct. 10 fight began the day before, outside the school on the city's west side.
Witnesses say the two men had words after school let out, upset because one of the boys pushed the other. The principal intervened, the police were called and the families were asked to return to the school the next morning for counseling.
Violence is not uncommon in the area, a neighborhood of century-old homes where many residents struggle with poverty and drug abuse. A social worker was stabbed to death by a client in 2001 just a few houses away from the school. Last summer, a 14-year-old boy was shot to death by a driver upset that his car had been pelted with eggs.
Jude and his fiancee, Jhonda Phillips, arrived at the school the following day for their meeting with the principal.
A meeting with Reese and Star Caulley, the mother of the other fifth-grader, was scheduled for about an hour later.
District spokesman Jeff Warner said the principal was careful to set up separate appointments because the families had feuded over alleged bullying between the boys since last year.
When his meeting was over, Jude waited in the parking lot while Phillips went back inside to give their son his lunch money.
Caulley and her boyfriend arrived in a van, along with several of Caulley's other children.
Police are investigating what happened next.
Parsley says Jude and the boyfriend began arguing and looked like they were going to start fighting. Before anything happened, the two calmed down.
Then, Parsley said, as the two men walked between their cars, Reese hit Jude in the face.
Larson, the attorney, insists it happened differently: Reese was rushed by Jude and others almost as soon as he pulled up in the van.
Reese was arrested the day of the fight on unrelated charges of burglary and possession of criminal tools. He was freed Thursday on a $25,000 bond. Larson is representing him only on the burglary charge but said he had talked to his client about the fight.
Jude worked in a warehouse and did construction, painting, and other odd jobs. He and Phillips also had an 8-year-old daughter.
"He was a great guy. Just loved his family, loved doing stuff with his kids on the weekends and just worked during the week," said next-door neighbor Rob Hernandez, 40, a construction worker. "Just a regular kind of guy."
Parsley said Jude's son has not returned to school since the fight. She said he made a brief phone call to her son, who is best friends with the boy.
"He just wanted to know from my son: 'Did you watch the news because my daddy's dead,"' Parsley said.