ROCKVILLE, Md. - School was back in session at Rockville High School on Monday morning for the first time since two students were charged with raping a fellow classmate in a school bathroom. The alleged assault happened while classes were in session, but five days after the attack, there are more questions than answers as to how something like this could happen in the first place.
Police charged two Rockville High students -- 17-year-old Jose Montano and 18-year-old Henry Sanchez--with first-degree rape and two counts of first-degree sexual offenses in the rape of a 14-year-old girl inside a boys' restroom. Both suspects remain in custody, and they're being charged as adults.
The victim, who is a freshman, says the attack happened last Thursday morning around 9 am.
The suspects, though much older than the victim, are also both freshmen at Rockville High School. Sanchez is from Guatemala and is currently under a deportation order. Montano is from El Salvador. Both suspects have been in the United States for between 7 and 8 months, and neither have prior criminal records.
Charging documents detail brutal attack
Court documents released Friday describe a brutal attack. They say the victim knew Montano, but she did not know Sanchez. She told police she was walking with Montano in a school hallway on Thursday morning when he asked her for a hug, and then slapped her buttocks and asked her to come with him and Sanchez. The documents say when the three were walking near the gym, the two suspects forced her into a boys' bathroom.
Despite repeatedly telling the suspects to stop and her attempts to fight them off, court documents say the victim told police the suspects took turns raping and sodomizing her, and forcing her to perform oral sex on them. The charging documents say there was a noise at the bathroom door at one point, and shortly after that the suspects threw one of their jackets over the victim's head, walked her out of the bathroom and left. The victim then reported the rape to school administrators, and police were contacted. The documents say blood and other DNA were found in the bathroom.
In court, the Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office argued the suspects should be held without bond because they are a danger to the public, and a flight risk. The judge in the case sided with prosecutors.
More questions than answers
FOX 5 DC is demanding answers that the community is looking for in the case. The Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Jack Smith declined repeated requests to appear on FOX 5 News Morning to answer those questions, due to the ongoing criminal investigation.
In the past, Smith hasn't been shy about speaking out against hate crimes committed in schools and the Trump administration's policies on transgendered students. But following the alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl by two other students, he has so far only issued a statement (scroll down to read the full statement, and the letter sent home to Rockville High School parents). FOX 5 DC's requests for interviews have been declined, citing the ongoing criminal investigation.
Parents, however, are talking. Many told FOX 5 they are upset, angry, and want someone at MCPS to explain exactly how this happened, and what is being done to ensure it never happens again.
Among the questions they want answers to:
- Why are 17 and 18-year-old boys allowed to be with freshman girls who are as young as 14?
- Are students forced out of school at a certain age?
- Did Montgomery County Public Schools know that one of the suspects has a deportation order against him?
- How are unaccompanied minors who attend Montgomery County Public Schools monitored or tracked in the schools?
- What exactly is being done to ensure the safety of students in the future?
FOX 5 DC submitted these questions to MCPS on Monday, asking for a written response in light of Smith declining an on-camera interview.
Finally on Monday night, FOX 5's Marina Marraco was able to catch up with superintendent Dr. Jack Smith outside of his office to answer some of the community's questions. For the most part, Smith said he could not discuss any facts in the case due to the ongoing police investigation.
"The police and the courts will sort all of that out," said Smith. "As I said in my letter last night, information will continue to come out in the coming weeks, so it is important for people, as horrible as this situation is, not to jump to conclusions or say things that they might eventually have to rethink or take back."
Regarding why students as old as ages 17 and 18 would be enrolled as freshmen at the high school, the superintendent said, "We have a lot of 18-year-olds in our schools. Our student was actually in a METS [Multidisciplinary Educational Training and Support] Program for English learners and that is a program we have across the system, and so, it is not a matter of what grade they were in, but the student was in a program for English learners."
Council President says Montgomery Co. isn't a "sanctuary city"
Meanwhile Monday, in another part of the county, Montgomery County Council President Roger Berliner did take questions on the topic, which took over what was supposed to be his weekly news conference. He pushed back hard against questions that Democratic county leaders had somehow "coddled" or encourage illegal immigration in the county through policies sympathetic with a "sanctuary city."
When FOX 5's Tom Fitzgerald asked Berliner what responsibility school officials bear for what may or may not have happened on Friday, and whether 18-year-old men belong in classrooms with freshmen girls, Berliner responded, "I believe that is a question to be posed to our school system. As you know it is a state-run separate system. I understand the concerns of parents. I do believe it's a fundamental responsibility of the school system to have a safe environment. Nobody should ever be fearful that something ugly like this is going to take place."
ICE lists Montgomery Co. on list of jurisdictions that "choose not to cooperate" with detainers
But ironically, just as that interview was taking place and Berliner was saying Montgomery County is not a sanctuary city, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement released a report showing Montgomery County is on a list of jurisdictions that "choose not to cooperate with ICE detainers or requests for notification, therefore potentially endangering Americans." Prince George's County is also on the list.
When told of that announcement, Berliner said the county does cooperate when a crime has been committed.
Full statement from MCPS Superintendent
In this statement released to the community Monday morning, MCPS Superintendent Dr. Jack Smith said the following:
"As you may have heard or read, a serious incident occurred at Rockville High School on March 16, 2017. The incident involves allegations of rape and the arrest of two students. I am deeply troubled by these allegations. The allegations presented in the charging documents are horrible and unacceptable. They do not represent the positive values of our students and school communities. Our thoughts are with the student who reported the incident and her family. Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) is committed to supporting them through these difficult times.
Please know that our school staff immediately contacted the Montgomery County Police Department (MCPD) once they were informed about the alleged sexual assault. MCPS continues to fully cooperate with MCPD and the Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office on this matter.
Rockville High School staff, with the support of the MCPS administration, are working closely with the students and the school community to address concerns, provide support, and review security measures.
I know community members have many questions about this serious incident. To ensure we do not unintentionally prejudice an ongoing investigation, MCPS cannot provide any additional details about this specific case at this time. However, we believe more information about this incident will be made available by law enforcement in the coming weeks.
The safety and security of every student in our district is our top priority and a responsibility that we do not take lightly. We have and will continue to work every day to ensure our schools are safe places to learn."
Read the letter from Rockville High School below:
March 17, 2017
Dear Parents and Guardians:
I am writing to inform you about a serious incident that occurred at our school yesterday, March 16, 2017, and share with you how it is being addressed.
It was reported to administration that a student was sexually assaulted by two students in a restroom. We immediately contacted the Montgomery County Police Department. The police conducted an investigation and subsequently executed arrests on school property of the alleged assailants. I am unable to share further details at this time as this is an ongoing police investigation.
Ensuring a safe, secure and welcoming learning environment for all of our students is our top priority. Our staff remains vigilant in the monitoring of our school each and every day. Please remind your child that if they believe they are a victim of an assault or see something inappropriate, they should immediately tell a staff member.
If you have any questions or concerns, please feel to contact me at 301-517-8105.
Principal, Rockville High School
Montgomery County Executive: 'Sick and disgusted'
Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett released a statement Monday regarding the alleged sexual assault at Rockville High School:
"I was immediately sick and disgusted when it was reported that two young men raped a 14-year-old student at Rockville High School last Thursday. This should not happen. Period. My deepest condolences go out to this young girl and her family.
"Thankfully, the alleged rapists were arrested by the police. Obviously, if convicted, these young men need to be severely punished for this heinous act, and I am confident that the justice system will do its job.
"In addition, I know that Police Chief Thomas Manger is hard at work with his staff investigating what happened and securing procedures to ensure our students are safe and their parents don't have to worry. We are working with School Superintendent Jack Smith to support Rockville High School Principal Billie-Jean Bensen, and the entire Rockville High School community in this time while anxiety is high.
"Although these individuals had no previous involvement in the County's criminal justice system, these alleged rapists do have outstanding U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) orders. If convicted, and after serving their sentences, the County -- consistent with our longstanding policy -- will cooperate fully with ICE to see that the two are deported to their countries of origin.
"To the Rockville High School community and the neighborhoods it serves, I want you to know that the County government and the school system will do whatever is necessary to keep your children safe."