20 suspects sought in Richmond gang rape

October 27, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Police search for eight suspects who participated in the gang rape of a 15-year-old Richmond girl after her homecoming dance. As many as 20 others may have either watched the rape or recorded it with cell phones.

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There were more arrests on Tuesday evening. All day long police lined up arrest warrants preparing to execute them in one sweeping move. Around 8 p.m. police began rounding up the gang rape suspects.

A 21-year-old Richmond resident was the first suspect brought in to the police department on Tuesday night. He's believed to be one of eight outstanding suspects involved in the gang rape of the 15-year-old girl. Police say some of the incoming suspects are minors.

ABC7 also found out that the 15-year-old Richmond High student initially brought in for questioning, on Monday is the person who was acquainted with the victim.

Police have also changed the way they will be dealing with as many as 20 other people who reportedly stood by and watched or took cell phone video of the assault.

"Unfortunately California law does not allow you to arrest a person for witnessing a sex crime if the victim is over the age of 14," said Lt. Gagan.

Still, police say it is possible they'll find out that those claiming to be bystanders actually took part in the gang rape.

The case is so disturbing it is getting national attention as Richmond police work to solve it quickly. They made two arrests Monday and say there could be more arrests Tuesday evening. With each new suspect brought in, this story seems to get even more disturbing.

"This is a 2.5-hour ordeal and people came and went throughout the event," explained Lt. Mark Gagan.

Police say the crowd of spectators grew in size over the 2.5 hours the 15-year-old girl was gang raped outside her homecoming dance.

"We're close to 20 people who knew what was going on," Gagan said Tuesday. "Many of them were actively involved in physical assault, sexual assault and robbery of our victim."

Police continue searching for the 20 witnesses, as many as 10 actual rapists, many believed to attend Richmond High, just like their victim. One 15-year-old student was pulled out of class by detectives Monday. 19-year-old Manuel Ortega, a former Richmond High student, is being held for rape and robbery.

Police are learning more details about what happened in that dark, secluded stretch of campus. And, with each new suspect the story seems to get even worse.

"We are outraged that this happened," Richmond Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said Tuesday.

McLaughlin says the city wants to help with funding for better lighting and security, but says that ultimately, this is a school issue.

"This happened at a school," she said. "So, the school board has to be engaged with this. But, the city is very committed to providing further lighting, to providing further opportunities for chaperoning at events."

School district officials say security personnel at the dance did all they could.

"The dance itself was a success in terms of safety. Nothing happened at the event," school district spokesman Marin Trujillo said. "So, 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 believe the girl was raped as the dance was still going on. She knew at least one of her attackers and had been drinking with the group. There is now a $20,000 reward. The head of the East Bay's Rape Crisis Center says it is time for the community to step up.

"This particular event was really horrendous," said Rhonda James with Community Violence Solutions. "They're all horrendous. This is a different kind of horrendous. It's important that there is some healing event."

The school board will hold a public safety meeting at Richmond High School, at 6:00 p.m. Wednesday, October 28. They will also hold a parent's meeting at Richmond High School at 9:00 a.m. on Saturday, October 31.

Police say the victim is in stable condition and cooperating fully with investigators.

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