More than two years prior to her explosive arrest on multiple charges – including drug possession, sexual exploitation of a minor and assaulting police officers – a Lowcountry South Carolina teacher was already in a bad way.
In fact, she tried to end it all … by jumping off of a Beaufort County bridge.
After surviving this suicide attempt – a clear cry for help – was anything done to help her? And more importantly, was anything done to help – and protect – the children entrusted to her care?
Those who read our exclusive report related to the October 31, 2023 arrest of Holli H. Hodges were outraged by the allegations against her – and with good reason. Hodges is (or was) a teacher with the Beaufort-Jasper Head Start program. She taught at Beaufort Elementary School – where she was assigned to classroom two (although the Head Start program has classrooms in multiple local schools).
Previously, Hodges was a kindergarten assistant at Port Royal elementary school in the Beaufort County School District (BCSD). She held that post from August 2020 to October 2021 – a tenure we now know was marred by unknown issues which, by Hodges’ own admission, resulted in her being “put on administrative leave.”
THE CURRENT CHARGES …
Hodges was accused earlier this month of being in possession of “at least one image of a child which constitutes a violation of South Carolina law,” according to police. That photo is allegedly of a four-year-old kindergarten student with their pants and underwear down attempting to use the toilet.
A broader investigation is underway, with the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office (BCSO) – the agency leading that inquiry – seizing “electronic items belonging to Hodges” and sending them to the Internet Crimes Against Children (ICAC) division of S.C. attorney general Alan Wilson’s office for further analysis.
Hodges has been charged with one count of sexual exploitation of a minor related to the aforementioned image – and BCSO has indicated the examination of those devices may result in additional charges being filed. But that isn’t the only criminal situation she is facing. After voluntarily appearing at the Beaufort, S.C. police department headquarters on October 31 in response to a “potential criminal incident,” things turned ugly … and fast.
“Prior to any questions being asked or any statements being given, Ms. Hodges assaulted Beaufort police officers by biting and kicking them,” police alleged. After being taken into custody, a “search incident to arrest revealed she was in possession of a Schedule II drug.”
(Click to view)
In the aftermath of this incident, Beaufort police charged her with five counts of third degree assault and battery, one count of resisting arrest and one count of possession of a controlled substance.
As of this writing, Hodges remains incarcerated at the Beaufort County detention center. She was granted a surety bond of $50,000 – but has yet to post it. Her next court appearance is scheduled for this Friday (December 1, 2023).
As we await the disposition of those charges, our outlet has been doing some research into Hodges’ past – including concerns raised by local parents about her prior employment history within the government-run school system. In the process of investigating these concerns, we came upon a report regarding a suicide attempt two-and-a-half years ago – one which subsequently uncovered several prior references to issues with Hodges’ employment with the Beaufort County school district.
This media outlet has since submitted a FOIA for Hodges’ personnel file at the district in the hopes of determining what let to her being placed on leave prior to her suicide attempt. Astonishingly, despite all of these red flags, Hodges was still hired by Head Start – a federal program aimed at assisting low-income children.
Head Start is a federal-to-local program, with individual “community action” organizations running it with federal funds. State regulators license facilities exclusively for health and safety, sources familiar with the structure of the program told us, but the agencies responsible for administering the program are all local.
THE BRIDGE INCIDENT …
At approximately 9:30 a.m. on the morning of June 8, 2021, Hodges was seen by a passerby straddling the side of the Broad River Bridge – a 1.7-mile span which transports Highway 170 across the tidal channel that separates the South Carolina mainland on the west from Port Royal and Parris Islands on the east.
Hodges’ silver Toyota 4-Runner – which was registered to her ex-husband – was parked in the middle of the bridge, its motor running.
“I saw a woman with one leg over the wall of the bridge,” the passerby told police.
Turning around at the end of the bridge, he returned to where the car was parked and Hodges was no longer there but “swimming about thirty yards out in the water.” Or rather “struggling to swim.”
As he called out to kayakers in the water to rescue Hodges, the passerby turned Hodges car off – in the process locating “what appeared to be a suicide note” in her passenger seat. He then called the police as the kayakers pulled her from the water and transported her safely to shore.
According to an incident report (.pdf) obtained from BCSO under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), its deputies responded to the scene and found Hodges’ vehicle parked on the bridge with “a pair of sandals sitting near the railing of the bridge.” They also located “a note … saying goodbye.”
In a lengthy, handwritten statement provided to BCSO deputies, Hodges noted she had been experiencing “ongoing trauma” for quite some time. She cited previous incidents in which she allegedly found a noose placed behind her vehicle in her friend’s driveway and found “a straight razor on the shelf above the sink in (her) classroom.”
She also claimed someone had been unlocking her car and manipulating its radio system – including one time the vehicle allegedly played a previously downloaded song called “Hanging.”
“I felt like someone was downloading something onto my car radio system,” she wrote. “My car radio screen would have weird things on screen and strange fonts.”
Hodges reported these incidents – including a photo of her vehicle’s display screen – to police at the time. She also provided the information to her “legal advocate” at Hopeful Horizons, a Beaufort County social services provider.
Hodges further told police she was being followed and that she was having “constant problems” related to her cell phone and iPads. Specifically, she noted that she was receiving “downloaded messages quite frequently” even though she said she was “not downloading anything.”
In her statement to police in early June of 2021, Hodges acknowledged being placed on administrative leave by BCSD and that she had recently met with a district official.
“I was told because of a (counseling) review … I was going to need to have twelve therapy sessions and would need to either resign or be fired from my job as a kindergarten assistant,” Hodges wrote.
Local parents were understandably concerned how Hodges “still had access to children” in the district in the aftermath of these incidents.
“Who dropped the ball?” one parent asked. “Beaufort schools or Head Start?”
This media outlet’s primary concern is for the students entrusted to the care of South Carolina’s government-run school system – a system which for decades has lagged behind the rest of the nation despite massive increases in taxpayer funding.
Like the parent who spoke with us, we are very concerned as to how Hodges went from throwing herself off a bridge in Beaufort County to being back inside Beaufort County classrooms. Someone clearly dropped the ball there – and an investigation into this local Head Start office seems entirely appropriate. Overdue, even.
The statements made by Hodges are also concerning – and deserving of further investigative scrutiny. In the event Hodges is released from prison and wishes to address those statements – or an attorney wishes to address them on her behalf – our media outlet stands ready to hear (and tell) her story in keeping with our longstanding open microphone policy.
Also, as noted in our original report Hodges is considered innocent until proven guilty by our criminal justice system – or until such time as she may wish to enter some form of allocution in connection with a plea agreement with prosecutors related to any of the charges that have been (or may be) filed against her.
To download the incident report for yourself, click on the document below. One note: In addition to the law enforcement redactions made by BCSO, this news outlet subsequently redacted both the contents of the suicide note and its intended recipient.
Why? Because we felt it was a private communication from one family member to another with little to no relevance to our ongoing investigation.
Count on this media outlet to keep our audience updated on the very latest related to this story.
Finally, as is our custom in reporting on stories involving suicides (or attempted suicides), if anyone reading this post is dealing with issues that have them questioning whether to take their own life – or harming themselves – please, call a friend. You can also reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by calling 1-800-273-TALK. Or just text or call 988 (more info here). Remember, “you are not alone – you are never alone.”
THE REPORT …
ABOUT THE AUTHOR …
Will Folks is the founding editor of the news outlet you are currently reading. Prior to founding FITSNews, he served as press secretary to the governor of South Carolina. He lives in the Midlands region of the state with his wife and seven (soon to be eight) children.
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