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Wednesday, March 14, 2007 02:33 pm

Kinderfingers

The mystery of the school door that suddenly went on the attack

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Untitled Document I’m not a fan of horror movies, but I think most of them start with a beautiful girl enjoying a carefree life, then suddenly being attacked by a monster. If you can adjust that scenario down to kindergarten age, I’ve got a gorefest for you. Our movie opens with young Sammi Rafferty trying to take care of her business before going to a school assembly. Luckily, her classroom at Black Hawk Elementary has a small bathroom in one corner, so she ducks in there and pulls the wooden door shut behind her. A few seconds later she comes out of the bathroom with her mouth open, like she’s going to scream, only no sound comes out. Then she starts flapping her hands, and blood goes everywhere. “I ran over to Ms. Coopman, because I didn’t want blood to drip on the floor,” Sammi says. “I don’t like cleaning up messes.”
She chose Ms. Coopman, the teacher’s aide, because she had a hunch that the lead teacher didn’t have the stomach for raw meat.
“I didn’t want Ms. Patterson to know, because she’ll say ‘Ew!’ to it. Ms. Coopman will not. She doesn’t say ‘Ew!’ to anything,” Sammi says.
Sammi had gotten her right ring finger caught in the bathroom door, and by the time she untangled it she’d scraped off all the skin from the top knuckle to the tip, dislodging her fingernail. Just 6, she has a tough time conveying exactly how that felt. “It hurt more and more, and it started to make blood come out of the nail,” she says. “It hurt on the top and the bottom and the middle.”
Her mom, Amy Rafferty, can’t muster the right words either. “I still want to throw up, thinking about it,” she says. Doctors determined that Sammi’s finger  wasn’t broken but that the wound was too diffuse to stitch. Once the swelling subsided, Amy says, they could see a puncture wound that appeared to go all the way through Sammi’s finger. “It bled for two straight days,” Amy says. But it takes more than gore to make a horror movie. It takes multiple victims, right? Fast forward from October, when Sammi’s   finger got smashed, three months later, to January. Amy is picking Sammi up from school. We zoom in on a note she finds in Sammi’s bookbag. It’s from another parent: “Call me; we need to talk.”
The note is from Chris Joy. Her daughter, Kayla, has just gotten her finger smashed in the same bathroom door. Kayla’s 5. Her account of how her left index finger got mangled is, well, more charming than informative. “I was trying to close the door, but then I accidentally hit the door with my finger,” she says. “Everybody looked when I cried. Ms. Coopman said, What’s wrong? What’s wrong? And I was trying to hurry up and go to the office.”
Her mom took Kayla to the emergency department at St. John’s Hospital. X-rays revealed that Kayla’s fingertip was broken. Like Sammi, her fingernail had been dislodged; it had to be removed and then stitched back into place. “She woke up in the middle of the night screaming,” her mom recalls. It isn’t over. Both girls are still waiting for their fingernails to grow back properly. Sammi’s cuticle is so damaged, a new nail can’t reattach. “Every time it starts growing, the bottom starts wiggling,” Sammi says. (You can see pictures of both girls and their damaged digits at www.illinoistimes.com). Of course, any horror movie has to have a monster of some sort, and Amy Rafferty and Chris Joy believe it’s that bathroom door. After all, in a span of only three months, this solid-oak plank has attacked two little girls and severely injured their fingers. “When Sammi got hurt, I chalked it up as an accident and told the principal they needed to fix that door — and I was under the impression that the door was fixed until I got the note from Kayla’s mom,” Amy says. “There’s two kids hurt. Obviously, there’s a problem here,” Chris says. Dave Smith, director of operation and maintenance for District 186, has personally examined the monster door and says there’s absolutely nothing whatsoever wrong with it. “That door has been in that bathroom since the school was built, in 1956,” he says. “The door is operating beautifully.”
It doesn’t have a metal arm at the top with an adjustable hydraulic closing device, but Smith says such equipment is unnecessary. “We’re not required to have any kind of a closing device except on doors leading into hallways for fire concerns,” he says. “There’s no perfect solution other than, I think, this was caused by human error, unfortunately. The door is operating properly under code.”
He probably won’t buy my theory that the door is haunted. I mean, why else would it have suddenly developed an appetite for kinderfingers? All I know for sure is that this door terrorized two little girls, and their moms hope that this horror movie doesn’t have a sequel.

Contact Dusty Rhodes at drhodes@illinoistimes.com.
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