A high school student in Indiana sparked outrage when he posted a picture of himself with a black cheerleader and used a racial slur in the caption.
Cheerleaders from the Indianapolis Colts paid a visit to Western High School in Russiaville to promote a blood drive sponsored by the NFL team. The cheerleaders posed for photos with a number of students.
In one picture taken at the event, cheerleader Leanna and one of her colleagues are flanked by two high school students. Later that day, the student standing next to Leanna, who is black, posted the image to Snapchat.
"Of course [another student's name] put me next to the n-----," is how he captioned the image, according to the Daily Mail.
The Snapchat was posted on Facebook and Twitter and quickly went viral, provoking waves of outrage from social media users.
In response, Principal Rick Davis published a statement apologizing for the student's actions:
We are so incredibly sorry to everyone who has been hurt by this message and this mistake that this student made. That student and everyone else associated with it, especially the cheerleader, is dealing with the fallout.
It was actually a very positive, great celebration that unfortunately was tarnished by this one student's actions. That is not who we are or what we represent. It's an unexpected punch in the gut. How could one of our students do this?
WXIN spoke with Leanna about her reaction to the controversy.
"There's some hurt, but I really have to commend my parents for the way they raised me, they prepared me for this," she said. "Despite how people treat you, you're to always treat others with kindness and love."
Asked whether she accepted the student's apology, Leanna said she had.
"This is [an] act of ignorance and he's a kid and he made a mistake and I don't think it was personal," she explained. "It was in my nature to just forgive him and pray for him and pray for everybody who was hurt by it."
She added that she has received a flood of cards, flowers and kind words since the photo surfaced online. Ultimately, she hopes people can use the incident as a learning experience.
"Find forgiveness and treat others the way you would want to be treated," Leanna advised. "Stop trying to fight hate with hate. Start trying to fight it with love."