Four Charged in California Homecoming Gang Rape

DA's office to seek life in prison for all four charged in the attack.

October 27, 2009, 10:37 AM

Oct. 28, 2009— -- Four out of five suspects arrested in connection with the publicly witnessed, hours-long gang rape of a 15-year-old girl outside of her California high school's homecoming dance face charges that could send them to prison for life, police said.

Manuel Ortega, a 19-year-old former Richmond High School student, has been charged with robbery, assault with a deadly weapon causing great bodily injury, rape in concert [gang rape] and rape with violence, according to Richmond Police Lt. Mark Gagan.

The Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office is going to ask for a life sentence for Ortega, Gagan said. His bail has been set at $1,230,000

The other three suspects are juveniles, ages 15, 16 and 17, but are to be charged as adults, and the D.A.'s office will seek life sentences for the trio, Gagan said.

The three juveniles are being held without bail on charges of rape in concert and penetration with an foreign object in concert. In addition, the 16-year-old will be charged with robbery.

A fifth suspect, 21-year-old Salvador Rodriguez, arrested Tuesday night, has not yet been charged, although the district attorney's office continues to investigate his role.

Estimates of the number of people present for the more-than-two-hour assault Saturday night have grown. Initially, police believed 20 people either took part in the attack or watched it happen.

Police now believe that as many as 10 suspects took part in the gang rape, while 20 others stood by and watched the crime occur in a dimly lit corner of the sprawling campus, according to KGO.

No one who was present during the assault tried to stop it or called police. Instead, some of those watched the attack are suspected of taking pictures, police told ABC's KGO-TV in San Francisco.

KGO reported that police were called only after someone who was not at the scene heard people talking about the attack, which was still going on.

Police officers found the girl semi-conscious, curled up near a lunch table.

Gagan said the Richmond Police Department is pleased with the district attorney's aggressive approach in prosecuting the case.

Richmond police arrested three people Tuesday night, including the 17-year-old boy, who turned himself in to police after authorities visited his home earlier in the day, according to KGO-TV.

The 16-year-old boy and Rodriguez also were among the suspects taken into custody Tuesday night, joining two other young men who police already had apprehended.

The 15-year-old boy was arrested Monday after he was pulled out of class for questioning. He is believed to have known the rape victim.

"These are people who played a significant role in the incident," Gagan told the Associated Press. "I'm confident that more arrests will be made."

An official with the school district said Tuesday officials were praying for the victim's recovery but also defended school security, saying that when the students leave the dance, "we don't take them home."

West Contra Costa Unified School District spokesman Marin Trujillo told that there were four police officers, five chaperones and a host of teachers to supervise the dance, and that when the event was over a sweep was made of the campus to make sure everyone had gone home.

The corner on the outskirts of school grounds where the girl was attacked, he said, was not part of the search.

"I bet this is a learning incident," Trujillo said, referring to the way they searched the campus.

Nevertheless, the school spokesman said it's up to parents to make sure their children get safely home from these types of dances.

"Once the child leaves the dance, we don't take them home," Trujillo said.

The spokesman later told KGO, "The dance itself was a success in terms of safety. Nothing happened at the event. We're currently exploring our protocols to make sure that we can expand them, and make sure that this isolated incident doesn't get repeated again."

Police had a different view.

"These suspects are monsters. And, I don't understand how this many people capable of such atrocious behavior could be in one place at one time," Gagan told KGO.

No One at Gang Rape Reported It to Police

Dara Cashman, head of the Contra Costa County Sex Assault Unit, indicated that witnesses who did not come to the girl's aid or call police were unlikely to be charged with a crime unless they aided the assault.

According to news reports, the girl left the high school's homecoming dance alone around 9:30 p.m. Saturday to get a ride home with her dad.

Instead, she met up with a group of people who were drinking on the edge of campus.

"The series of events that occurred over the next 2½ hours got more severe and more vicious to where she was ultimately gang raped and beaten, and her injuries were so severe that she had to be sent to the hospital in a helicopter," Gagan told KGO.

Trujillo described the mood at Richmond High School is "somber." Counselors and members of the school's crisis team have remained at the school as students -- some who are still not sure who the victim is -- wonder if every absent girl was the one who was attacked.

Trujillo said the school district was not notified officially about the incident until the next morning, though some officials had heard about it on the news.

Trujillo said that school officials had recently approved a "very costly" security system, but that it had not yet been installed. Security cameras already installed in the school are not believed to be functional, he said, but there were no cameras pointed at the spot where the rape happened.

One student, 16-year-old Jennie Steinberg, told the Associated Press that her mother has let her transfer from the school Tuesday.

"It's not safe there at all," she said. "I'm not going back."

Trujillo said 1,688 students attend Richmond High School, which has a banner outside naming it "most improved."

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