Seven members of the Sayreville, New Jersey, War Memorial High School football team were charged Friday night on multiple counts including aggravated sexual assault stemming from alleged attacks on younger players on the team, prosecutors said.
"The six juveniles, ranging in age from 15 to 17 years old, are being detained by law enforcement authorities pending a Family Court decision on whether the youths will be held at a detention facility pending a court hearing, or will be released to the custody of their parents or guardians pending the hearing," Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey said in a statement. A seventh boy was still being sought in the case.
The teens are accused of attacking four victims in four separate incidents, according to the statement. The superintendent of schools canceled the football season after reports of harassment of younger team members.
Under state law, complaints against juveniles are sealed. The identities of the boys are being withheld because of their ages, prosecutors said. The teens could face adult charges but that decision has not been made, an official told ABC News.
Three of the juveniles are charged with aggravated sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual contact, conspiracy to commit aggravated criminal sexual contact, criminal restraint, and hazing for engaging in an act of sexual penetration upon one of the juvenile victims, according to the statement. Charges against the others include aggravated assault, conspiracy, aggravated criminal sexual contact, hazing and riot by participating in the attack of the remaining victims.
"The complaints charge that on various dates between September 19, 2014 and September 29, 2014, one or more of the juvenile defendants either held the victims against their will, while other juvenile defendants improperly touched the juvenile victims in a sexual manner," the statement read. One of the juvenile victims was kicked during an attack.
The Sayreville Board of Education said in a statement that it "takes this matter extremely seriously and thus will continue to make the safety and welfare of our students, particularly the victims of these horrendous alleged acts, our highest priority. The district administration has already launched a holistic harassment intimidation and bullying (HIB) investigation of all athletic and extracurricular programs in order to ensure that we take all steps necessary now and in the future to protect all our students.
"In the ensuing days, weeks, and months, we will come together as a school district and greater community to harness the strength required to support the young men who may have been victimized and then to begin the healing process for our beloved community," according to the statement released Friday.
Sayreville school district Superintendent Richard Labbe earlier this week praised the players who came forward to report the alleged abuse: “There was one or two courageous kids that stepped up and did the right thing and prevented one less child from being harassed, intimidated and bullied. And to me, those are the true heroes of this. And we need more heroes like this.”
In an interview with ABC News, Labbe said he was overwhelmed with “horror” when he first heard what was going on behind closed doors at his district’s high school. And he vowed that the proud football program in his community would be rebuilt--the right way. But Labbe insisted he realizes that the wounds of the last days are still raw, and he certainly recognizes there are pockets of hostility directed toward him and the school board that backed him up during a heated session Tuesday night.
“I understand how the seniors feel not to have that last game, not to walk out on the field for the last time with their mom and dad,” Labbe explained. “But based up on the information I received, the right decision that I knew in my heart was to make the one we made.”
On Monday, Labbe canceled the entire football season for Sayreville War Memorial High School after reports of bullying and physical intimidation, with sexual overtones, were reported to the police and Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office. The authorities are now investigating.
Before Labbe’s move, Sayreville football had been known for simply being among the elite of the Garden State’s scholastic athletics programs. Now, the district has to rebuild.
“Not only are we going to rebuild the image of this school district, the image of this high school, the image of this football team,” Labbe said. “But we are going to extend beyond that. We are going to become a very, very special place and that march toward getting people to take a stance is very important.”