When the 9- and 11-year-old victims were found in Edlington, North England, they were so covered in mud and blood that neighbors said they could not see their skin. The 9-year-old was found first, dazed and wandering, asking for help.
He wanted help to find his friend. "He can't see," he whispered. His 11-year-old friend was found unconscious and face-down in a ravine, clad only in boxer shorts and socks. Both the boys had been beaten with bricks, slashed "head-to-toe" with knives, burned with cigarettes, and pushed into the ground. Both remain in the hospital.
Their alleged attackers: Two boys, 10 years old and 11 years old, who the South Yorkshire Police had charged with attempted murder and robbery. It is alleged that the victims' cell phones, sneakers and about 3 pounds in cash were stolen in the attack.
The two boys charged with the crime allegedly slashed the victims with a knife "from head to toe," burned them with cigarettes and beat them with bricks before throwing one of them down a ravine near Doncaster, according to police.
The brothers had been put into foster care by Doncaster Council, whose children's services department was recently described as "chaotic and dangerous" following the deaths of seven vulnerable youngsters.
Due to the nature of the case, and the ages of both the victims and the attackers, official details are scarce. It was unclear whether the victims and the attackers knew one another, but it appeared that the boys were fishing on the outskirts of the town when the two attackers confronted them.
There was no doubt, however, about the brutality of the attack. Lisa Meehan's daughter found the 9-year old victim. "I felt sick to my stomach," she told the BBC. "You couldn't see his face. He was cut from head to toe with a gash across his head. They had slashed his arms and face and he had no trainers or socks on. His face was mashed."
Jean Wright's son, Ian, found the 11-year old and stayed with him until the police arrived. "My husband saw [the younger boy] walking past the outside of our house and he was covered in what my husband thought was red paint," she told the BBC. "When he went out he saw it was blood."
Who Is to Blame?
The boys accused of the attack were considered trouble and troubled. They were two of seven children and stepchildren, allegedly expelled from school, and accused by neighbors of being noisy and aggressive. After hearing about the attacks, the mother of a local choir boy spoke up, claiming that these same boys were responsible for an equally vicious attack on her son, Callam Flett.
"He was shaking with fear and was totally terrified," she told the Daily Mail. "He was black and blue, his lip was swollen, and he had dreadful bruising on his cheek and on his legs and chest."
The two boys' 36-year-old single mother apparently handed them over to the Doncaster City Council three weeks ago, claiming that she could not care for them anymore. After the incident, she detached herself from responsibility. She allegedly yelled at a journalist from the Sun, through her door. "It's got nowt to do with me -- they weren't even in my care."
The decision from the Doncaster City Council to place them in foster care in the first place has also come under fire, because this has not been the first time children under their care have met with trouble. The Doncaster Children's services were accused of being responsible for several deaths, including the suicide of 10-year-old Cameron McWilliam, and the death of 16-month old Amy Howson, whose spine was allegedly snapped by her abusive father.
Paul Hart of the Doncaster City Council released a statement about the attack. "This is a truly shocking and upsetting incident, and we are working closely with our partners to assist the investigation," he said.
Gareth Williams, director of children's services, added in a statement to ABC News: "We have today referred the case to the Doncaster Safeguarding Children's Board, where a full review will be carried out.
"Across the country, there are hundreds of children in care who will no doubt feel that this situation reflects badly on them. …This is not the case, and it is crucial that no other children suffer because of this situation."
A History of Violence
The case has gotten a flurry of attention in the United Kingdom, because it recalls the death of 2-year old Jamie Bulger in 1993, who was killed by two 10-year old boys. After going missing for a day, his body was found at a railway line. The accused killers were allegedly trying to re-create a scene from a film they had recently seen.
Jamie's mother, Denise Fergus, said in a public statement, "This attack sent a chill down my spine. It's terrible to think there are children of 10 and 11 going around with knives."
A spokesman for the prime minister said the attack did not mean British children were becoming more violent.
"In his view, the overwhelming majority are well-behaved and have good upbringings," he said. "He would be cautious about reaching any general conclusion about what is a disturbing but singular event."
The parents of the 11-year-old victim have appealed to the media to give them space while their son recovers from his wounds. "We would like to thank all the community for their help in finding our son and for all their continued support through what is a very traumatic time," they said in a statement. "We are hoping that our son will continue to recover from his ordeal and ask that the media will continue to respect our privacy."