March 18, 2011 -- Eighteen young men and teenage boys allegedly gang raped an 11-year-old girl in Cleveland, Texas, not just once but multiple times, according to court documents.
The suspects have been arrested in connection with the alleged rapes that have sparked shame and outrage in the tiny Texas town, 45 miles from Houston. They range in age from 14 to 26 and include stars on the high school's basketball team, as well as the son of a school board member.
The alleged sexual assaults occurred between Sept. 15 and Dec. 1, according to documents obtained by the Cleveland Advocate.
Additionally, four of the defendants have been charged with a more serious felony of continuous sexual abuse of a child because they are accused of assaulting the girl on two or more dates, according to the court documents.
Cleveland Police began investigating the alleged rapes in December after cell-phone video showing the alleged sex attacks started circulating among students at Cleveland schools, according to court documents. The video allegedly shows the girl engaged in sexual acts with several men.
The investigation, which is still ongoing, has stirred racial tensions in the town. All the defendants are African-Americans and the girl is Hispanic.
The suspects' mugshots have been posted on a local white supremacist website. One site instructs members to "get the blood going."
Things have gotten so tense that Judge Mark Morefield implemented a gag order March 15. The gag order bars lawyers, police and any potential witnesses from speaking about the case.
Prior to the court-ordered silence around the case, the New Black Panther Party of Houston staged a rally in the town of fewer than 8,000 people.
"Listen to me good, you stand by your children and don't let them convince you to walk away and take a plea deal for some trumped up charges," Quanell X told family members of the defendants at a rally on March 10.
Two days later, the group Mujeres Unidas held a news conference in support of the girl who has not been identified because she is a minor and the alleged victim of a sex crime.
"I feel sorry for the little girl," Inez Dickerson said in an interview with ABCNews.com Mar. 9. "I feel sorry for everyone involved ... the city is in turmoil."
Dickerson, 68, is the great-grandmother of one of the defendants in the case. Her great-grandson has not been publicly identified by police because he is a minor.
Alleged Gang Rape Divides Texas Town
Dickerson remembers when her great-grandson called to tell her about the crime he's accused of committing.
"When I got on the phone, he was crying. He said, 'Granny, I've been accused of something. I'm scared,'" Dickerson said. "He's pretty tore up about it."
Since the saw mill closed in the hardscrabble town of Cleveland, the biggest employers are Wal-Mart and a nearby prison. Everyone is a neighbor but the small town ambience has been strained.
"I'm not going to play the race card on this because my grandson and all the rest were very young men and they could have given a second thought on this," Dickerson said.
Brenda Myers, who runs the Community and Children's Impact Center in Cleveland, one of the few programs for youth, said she knows the girl and her family.
She is working to build a youth center for the town's kids, something, she says, that could help keep kids out of predicaments such as this.
"I just have to believe in all my heart that there's some positive that can come out of this negative situation," she said.
The girl is no longer in the custody of her parents, Myers said.
"It's difficult," she said. "They're [the girl's family] never going to get over it. The little girl is adjusting to her environment."
The girl and her two sisters frequently attended meetings held by Myers' organization. Myers said the girl was a happy and talkative girl, but something abruptly changed in October.
"This little girl was always hugging and loving and in October, she was really, really quiet," Myers said in an interview with ABC News March 9.
When Myers asked the girl what was bothering her, she said, "'It's just something I can't tell you,'" Myers said.
The alleged rapes had already begun when the girl's attitude changed in October, according to court documents.
"It's becoming a black and white issue because it happened over in the quarters. It's segregating our community again," Myers said in the March 9 interview. "The reaction is anger, devastation."
Racial Rift in Cleveland, Texas
The village has a history of racial violence. In 1988, an African-American man was arrested in Cleveland for allegedly stealing a fountain pen. The man, 30-year-old Kenneth Simpson, was allegedly beaten to death by white police officers while in prison. The officers were acquitted of murder charges and returned to work.
In addition, Cleveland is embroiled in a political scandal in which three city council members are facing a recall election after complaints of corruption, the Cleveland Advocate reported earlier this week. All three are African-American.
More than half of the town is white, with the rest of the residents split between blacks and Hispanics.
Most of the defendants have ties to Precinct 20, named for the predominantly African-American neighborhood in Cleveland.
The girl told authorities that the weekend after Thanksgiving she was asked if she wanted to ride around with three of the defendants in the case. The girl, described as a straight-A student by those who know her, rode with the young men to a blue house with white trim, according to court documents.
As the night unfolded, numerous men came to the house and later an abandoned trailer to have sex with the girl, according to court documents.
The video surfaced because some of the girl's attackers used their cell phones to take photographs and to film the assaults.
The girl said that she was told by the men that they "would have some girls 'beat her up' or she would not be taken back to her residence" if she didn't have sex with them, according to court documents.
When a relative of one of the defendants was heard returning to the blue house, the group hurriedly moved to an abandoned trailer. The girl left behind her bra and panties, according to the court documents.