City's Police Investigate Alleged Group Rape

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Nine Berkeley boys repeatedly raped a developmentally disabled 12-year-old girl in nearly a dozen locations around the city, police said yesterday.

The girl, who attends special education classes at Willard Middle School, was allegedly raped multiple times over a five-hour period Oct. 25, but police withheld the information, said Berkeley police Lt. Russell Lopes. Many of the boys also attend Willard although they are not in the special education program, Lopes said.

Seven of the boys, who are ages 11 to 14, have been arrested over a period of three days and released to their parents, said Sgt. Steve Odom, the detective who is supervising the case. Police are trying to identify the remaining two, ages 15 and 16, and expect to arrest them soon. The suspects, depending on each person, will be charged in connection with multiple rapes, sodomy, oral copulation, kidnapping, sexual battery and false imprisonment - all of which are felonies.

As school ended on Oct. 25, several of the boys"tricked" the girl into going with them to a secluded spot where they forced her to have sex, Lopes said. As one boy had sex with her, most likely in a local shed, another would walk out and find a friend to have sex next, police said.

"Given her mental capacity, she was forced into this (original) sex act, (but) as the day wore on, she just resigned herself to it," Lopes said. "These boys just lined up for sex."

Hearing noise, a neighbor near the shed apparently yelled at some of the boys as they came in and out - not realizing what was really happening - and scared them off. The boys then allegedly took the girl to 10 other "public and semi-public" locations, such as bushes and abandoned warehouses, to rape her again, Lopes said. The girl walked along with the boys to each location. Odom said the group traveled all over Berkeley.

"She was so severely disabled, she couldn't figure out how to get away from them," Lopes said.

The girl and her mother reported the incident to police later that day, Odom said.

"These are very, very serious offenses," Odom said. "The victim was not consenting to any of the acts."

The girl, whose name was not released, went back to school the next day but has been transferred to a different school, said Karen Sarlo, Berkeley Unified School District superintendent.

"Physically she seems to be fine," Sarlo said.

Some of the boys have been suspended and, regardless of a court case, if there is "significant evidence" that they were involved in the incident, they will be expelled, Sarlo said. The Berkeley Board of Education will consider the expulsions Nov. 15.

"The school district, as the school is, is very concerned," Sarlo said. "We take safety and security very seriously."

The principal, Gail Hojo, will send a letter home with students today telling parents there has been a serious incident.

"Parents and kids don't really know," she said, lamenting that the news would be reported by the media.

But many Willard students yesterday said they knew about the alleged rapes and even boasted that they had been there or could show exactly where it happened. They seemed more excited than horrified.

"People knew while it was going on," said an eighth-grade girl who wished to remain anonymous. "They didn't report it because they didn't want to get involved."

Another eighth-grade girl said she did not know what to think about the case because she heard the victim was "willing."

A Willard employee who wished to remain anonymous said widely circulating rumors, which she said are untrue, have caused students to take the case less seriously.

The employee was supervising an after-school program while the rape was allegedly happening. She said students kept eagerly asking to go to the bathroom "to see." One student even told her the victim was performing oral sex in the bathroom.

"I was like, 'No way,'" the employee said. "I definitely would have gone in if I had believed them. I kind of felt bad that I didn't go to the bathroom to check it out (and stop it)."

The girl is receiving counseling from the Children's Hospital Oakland, said Tim Moellering, the after-school program director. He said she had been in an after-school program that lasted until 6 p.m. but that the program ended Oct. 20, five days before the reported rape. He said she had an escort that made sure she got to the program from class.

"I don't know if we can supervise a person more than we supervised her," Moellering said.

Officials said all students will have access to counseling. The principal said she is still waiting to hear the full report from police.

"I really have to try to protect all our kids," she said. "We have to be sensitive."

The District Attorney's juvenile division could not comment on the charges because the case had not yet been brought before them, according to Matt Golde, a deputy district attorney.


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