Derrick Johnson, left, president of the Mississippi NAACP, left, talks to Stacey Payton, center, with Hollis Payton, behind her, parents of a high school student, in front of the Stone County Courthouse in Wiggins, Miss., Monday, Oct. 24, 2016. Johnson is demanding a federal investigation after the parents said four white students put a noose around their son's neck at school. (AP Photo/Max Becherer)

Derrick Johnson, left, president of the Mississippi NAACP, left, talks to Stacey Payton, center, with Hollis Payton, behind her, parents of a high school student, in front of the Stone County Courthouse in Wiggins, Miss., Monday, Oct. 24, 2016.

*A south Mississippi high school is under investigation after a black student claimed that as many as four white students put a noose around his neck during an Oct. 13 football practice.

At a Monday news conference, the Mississippi NAACP demanded a federal hate crime investigation into the junior varsity player’s claims at Stone High School, reports the Associated Press. The NAACP said the incident happened during a break in football practice and that the noose was “yanked backward” while on the student’s neck.

“No child should be walking down the hall or in a locker room and be accosted with a noose around their neck,” state NAACP President Derrick Johnson said during a news conference in Wiggins. “This is 2016, not 1916. This is America. This is a place where children should go to school and feel safe in their environment.”

Hollis and Stacey Payton, parents of the alleged victim, attended the news conference but didn’t speak. Their son, an unnamed sophomore, wasn’t present.

Stone High has about 800 students, about a quarter of whom are black, according to state figures. The school is the only public high school in the 18,000-resident county.

Names of the students alleged to have assaulted the Paytons’ son weren’t immediately released.

Stone County Sheriff’s Capt. Ray Boggs said officials believe something close to what the Paytons described did happen and he’s still investigating. He said all the students involved are younger than 17 and he expects any charges would be filed in youth court, where records are closed to the public.

“It’s probably one of the hardest cases I’ll ever handle in my career, because of the nature of it,” said Boggs, who is black. “Have I ever had to deal with something like this? No, not from a high school.”

Johnson said he wants the teenagers charged as adults, as Mississippi law allows in some cases for children older than 13 and younger than 18.

Johnson said someone from the sheriff’s department advised Stacey Payton not to file a police report because the father of one of the alleged assailants is a former law enforcement officer. Boggs said he was the one who spoke to Stacey Payton, and that is not what he said. He said he told her that pursuing criminal charges could result in hard feelings among students that could make her son’s life more difficult at school, but he did not try to dissuade her.

Football coach John Feaster, the school’s first African American coach, said a player was kicked off the team as soon as school officials determined who was involved. He said he feels “terrible” for the victim, “a tough kid who’s hanging in there.”

“He knows I love him and his teammates love him and the coaching staff loves him and he isn’t going to be treated any differently,” Feaster told the Sun Herald. “He’s one of my favorite kids on this team.”

Johnson said the Paytons have received no official word about punishments from school officials. He said school district policy calls for immediate expulsion of students who commit assault.

Carissa Bolden of Wiggins, the mother of a middle school student, attended the NAACP news conference Monday and said white students have been flying the Mississippi flag from their vehicles. The upper left corner of the state flag used since 1894 has the Confederate battle emblem — a red field topped by a blue X with 13 white stars. Bolden said she sees a connection between the flag and the noose incident.

“I feel like it escalated from them allowing kids to bring Confederate flags” to school, Bolden said.