A high school classmate of presidential candidate Mitt Romney told ABC News today that he considers a particular prank the two pulled at Michigan’s Cranbrook School to be “assault and battery” and that he witnessed Romney hold the scissors to cut the hair of a student who was being physically pinned to the ground by several others.
“It’s a haunting memory. I think it was for everybody that spoke up about it … because when you see somebody who is simply different taken down that way and is terrified and you see that look in their eye you never forget it. And that was what we all walked away with,” said Phillip Maxwell, who is now an attorney and still considers Romney an old friend.
“I saw it with my own eyes,” said Maxwell, of the anecdote first reported by the Washington Post. Maxwell said Romney held the scissors helping to cut the hair of a student, John Lauber, who was presumed to be gay and who had long hair. “It was a hack job … clumps of hair taken off.”
Maxwell said he held the boy’s arm and leg, describing he and his friends as a “pack of dogs.”
Asked if Lauber was targeted because he was gay, as reported by the Post, Maxwell said, “We didn’t know that word in those days … but there were other words that were used. We weren’t ignorant, we just didn’t use the current names for things.”
Christine Lauber, older sister of John Lauber, who died in 2004, told ABC News she had ”no knowledge” of the incident involving her brother and Romney. But she said she was at college at the time of the incident, so at the time the brother and sister were “doing our own thing.”
“Even if it did happen, John probably wouldn’t have said anything,” she said.
“If he were still alive today, he would be furious [about the story],” she added with tears in her eyes. ”It’s two 16-year-old kids at school. And it was 40 years ago!”
Romney has since apologized for what he said were “pranks” in high school but has said he doesn’t remember this specific event. He added that “homosexuality was the furthest thing from his mind” when it came to the jokes he played on classmates. He laughed off the 45-year-old anecdotes during the radio interview today.
Asked if he has any doubt that what Romney did could be considered bullying, Maxwell responded, “Oh my god, are you kidding? … I castigated myself regularly for not having intervened. I would have felt a lot better about myself had I said, ‘Hey, enough.’”
“When I saw the look on his [Lauber's] face, it was a look I’ll never forget,” said Maxwell. “When you see a victim, the sense of trust betrayed in this boy who was perfectly innocent for being different.”
“This was bullying supreme,” he said.
Maxwell told ABC News that he is a registered independent, generally votes for Democrats, but has voted Republican in the past. He said he would have voted for Romney’s father, George Romney, had he won the presidential nomination. He says he has not donated to President Obama, nor has he volunteered for him.
Maxwell said he believes the incident had to have some effect on Romney.
“I grew up with him. We were best friends in elementary school. We always remained friends. Mitt is wonderful, very bright, an enormously energetic human being … a friend all my life, but this was a side of him that I hadn’t seen,” said Maxwell.
Maxwell added that he believes this is relevant in a presidential campaign because it speaks to the “character” of Romney.
In response to the Post story, the Romney campaign today released statements of two other students who attended Cranbrook with Romney.
“Mitt was a thoughtful guy with a great sense of humor who cared about his classmates. He had a good perspective on how to balance all the pressures high school students face. He would never go out and do anything mean spirited. Clownish, yes. Never mean,” said Richard Moon, a classmate of Romney’s.
“Mitt never had a malicious bone in his body – trying to imply or characterize him as a bully is absurd.” said John French, another Cranbrook classmate.
ABC News’ Matt Jaffe contributed to this report.