Group Teen Violence Shocks as Minors Charged With Rape, Murder, Assault

Recent spate of violence among groups of teens shocking to communities, police.

November 10, 2009, 1:57 PM

Nov. 10, 2009— -- Three of the five Florida teenagers accused of setting 15-year-old Michael Brewer on fire over a $40 video game debt will be tried as adults, prosecutors decided Monday. They are among nearly two dozen teens across the country charged in the last month with committing extreme acts of group violence.

The State Attorney's Office in Broward County formally charged Denver Jarvis, Michael Bent, both 15, and Jesus Mendez, now 16, with attempted second degree murder, a felony, in last month's attack that left Brewer clinging to life with severe burns over 65 percent of his body.

The two others facing lesser counts of aggravated battery, Jeremy Jarvis, 13, and Steve Shelton, 15, will be charged as minors and, according to Miami's ABC affiliate WPLG, will be released into the custody of their parents this week, per Florida state law.

Several hundred miles away, five other teenagers are sitting in Texas jails charged with the brutal beating death of 28-year-old Jonathan Bird. The attack was prompted, police said, by Bird's request that two of the teens stop driving recklessly down the narrow, residential street.

They left the scene and returned a short time later with three others and "kicked and hit him while he was down on the ground," Wylie Police Sgt. Donna Valdepena told

Bird was beaten so badly -- in his own front yard, she said -- that his spinal cord was severed at the neck "and he had a lot of hemorrhaging on his brain."

Charged with murder were 17-year-old Ethan Dorris and four 16-year-olds whose names were not being released because of their ages. Valdepena said the district attorney was considering charging the 16-year-olds as adults.

"What these kids did was senseless," Bird's fiancee Coti Duer told ABC's Dallas affiliate WFAA. "He he didn't fight back because they were kids."

The increasingly disturbing crimes committed by these teens have been so heinous that many prosecutors are going after them as adults when possible.

Group Violence: Sadistic Teens or Extreme Bullying?

All of the juveniles charged in last month's gang rape of a 15-year-old girl outside a Richmond, Calif., high school dance were charged as adults.

Police there say Marcelles James Peter, 17, Abdallah Morael, 16, and Cody Ray Smith, 15, along with Jose Carlos Montano, 18, Manuel Ortega, 19, Salvador Rodriquez, 21 and another 21-year-old whose name has not yet been released gang-raped the girl on school property for more than two hours while a crowd of nearly a dozen stood and watched.

And in Arizona, Phoenix police are still looking for two teenagers, believed to be between 14 and 18 years old, who they say pushed 15-year-old Francisco Elias into the road where he was struck by three cars and killed.

KNXV, ABC's Phoenix affiliate reported that Elias had called a family member in the minutes before his death, saying he was being followed and that he feared something bad was going to happen to him.

Police there told KNXV that he died less than a block from his home.

"I don't think this is new. To some extent this is an extreme version of bullying," Nadine Kaslow, chief psychologist for the Department of Psychiatry and Sciences at Emory University in Atlanta, told

Mob mentality is not relegated to teen behavior, she said, though the teens in the recent attacks have taken it to a disturbing level. Kaslow pointed to everything from race riots to sports celebrations to stock sell offs.

"They get rid of everyday decision making and judgment," she said. "It's like they get caught up in the emotion."

As for the juveniles charged as adults, Kaslow said that their age shouldn't preclude them from being punished as allowable by state law.

"If you behave in a way that's so horrible, there need to be significant consequences to that," she said. "And other kids need to see you don't get glorified by this."

Melissa Sickmund, chief of systems research for the National Center for Juvenile Justice, told today, "In general, I would say more than adults, children do tend to do things in groups."

Sickmund said that it's difficult to track the number of teens who are charged as adults because most courts only record data when there is a waiver from juvenile court, not when prosecutors send the juveniles straight to criminal court as in the case of the three Florida teens.

In general, youth violence, which peaked in the U.S. in the mid-1980s to mid-1990s, is way down, she said. Sickmund said heavy media coverage of sensational and disturbing crimes tends to distort the public's view of how violent teenagers really are.

"You could say today that kids are even less violent than their parents," she said.

Valdepena said the beating death of Bird was the first crime of its kind in Wylie, a town of about 40,000 northeast of Dallas.

"I think it was shocking to the entire community," she said, adding that the can usually count on petty teen crime such as vandalism or the stealing of Christmas decorations. "But this was obviously way above stupid."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events