An explosive national news story involving the sexual battery and subsequent suicide of 15-year-old Audrie Pott, a Saratoga High School sophomore, touched down at Christopher High School Thursday morning when a 16-year-old juvenile was arrested on campus in connection with the alleged crime.
The student, identified as a a sophomore football player by CHS students today, transferred into to CHS this year from Saratoga High. He was taken into custody by a Santa Clara County sheriff’s deputy without incident, according to CHS Principal John Perales, who said the student “was doing well” in his classes and “was very well-liked” among students.
Perales said the student, whose name is not being released because he is a juvenile, began attending Christopher High in the early fall after the start of the school year.
“We were not notified in any way, shape or form (before the sheriff’s arrival on Thursday morning),” said Perales during an interview in his office. “Everything that I knew as principal was that this young man was just like any other new student.”
The alleged crimes involving cyberbullying took place six months ago, Three juvenile males were arrested Thursday, the other two male students by deputies at Saratoga High School in San Jose.
Sheriff’s deputies will only confirm that Pott, a teenage girl with long brown hair seen in pictures always with a smile on her face, “was at a house party at the time the incident occurred” and we are “not addressing her sobriety condition” at that time. Various news reports, however, reported Pott was at an unsupervised house party, drank too much and passed out.
Those reports say Pott had no idea what had happened until the next day when she discovered drawings close to some private areas. She then found out photos of the attack were being shared with classmates through text messaging and online posts. When Pott found out, she posted on her Facebook: “They took pictures of me. My life is ruined” and “This is the worst day ever.”
The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Department would not confirm how the photos were distributed or whether they were posted on social media.
Pott took her own life eight days later.
Deputies also would not go into details of the assault, but did say that all three minor suspects are being charged with two felonies of sexual battery and possession and distributing harmful matter depicting the victim. They are also facing a sexual battery misdemeanor.
“The investigation is still on,” said Sgt. Jose Cardoza.
Cardoza said without a victim to speak with the investigation moved slowly at first. The school resource officer at the high school initially started investigating a case of cyber-bullying when he learned of a possible sexual battery. Officers then carried out search warrants of homes and confiscated computers and cell phones. It was then that officers identified the three suspects and subsequent arrests.
“The information developed little by little,” Cardoza explained.
Two of the suspects continued to attend Saratoga High School while the third transferred to Christopher High.
Shortly after Friday’s school dismissal, Christopher High students said they learned of the details from various news reports Thursday evening. Some didn’t find out until Friday morning, but all the students were talking about it during the school day.
“I was shocked that someone would do that,” said sophomore Sabrina Spence, who didn’t personally know the accused student but talked to friends at school about who he was.
“We knew of him,” added her friend, Mariah Gomez, 15, also a sophomore. “I felt bad for the girl (who was assaulted) and pretty shocked about the boy (who is accused of the crime).”
But for friends of the accused, fellow football players like 16-year-old sophomore quarterback Anthony who asked that his last name not be used, the news was completely out of character for someone they hung out with on a daily basis.
“He was just a happy kid. I never would have thought he’d be accused of something like that,” he said of his teammate and close friend. “He was like our brother.”
He added that the accused student was among a special group of his friends that call themselves, O.T.F. for Only The Family.
“We loved the kid. I don’t know what to think about it. But I don’t like how everyone who doesn’t even know him is talking about him,” he said.
“My parents loved him,” added Raul Tovar III, also a close friend, who recalled having his buddy over for movie nights. “My friend spoke to his father and he said that he is not guilty of what he’s being accused of. So, I take his word.”
The group of friends urged fellow classmates not to jump to any conclusions until the entire story is out, including 15-year-old sophomore Eric Cabrera, who said: “He’s just a really nice guy.”
But for other students, the crime itself, an attack on a defenseless, inebriated teenage girl who committed suicide as a result, was unimaginable.
“It’s just messed up, taking advantage of a girl like that,” said 15-year-old freshman Juan Iracheta. “It’s sad.”
Others expressed anger for what allegedly happened.
“My reaction is that they were jerks,” said freshman Lilia Juarez, 15.
Austin Corini, a 16-year-old junior at Christopher who is well known for performing on the TV show “X-Factor,” said he heard bullying was part of the whole ordeal and that he too knows what it’s like to be on the receiving end.
“I’ve dealt with a lot of bullying,” said Corini. “Kids can be pretty brutal.”
Perales said, as per district protocol, a sheriff’s deputy arrived on campus accompanied by Gilroy police officer and school resource officer Pat Sullivan during first period Thursday. The student was then called to the front office where he was taken into custody.
Perales said he was not informed prior to their arrival, during the process of calling the student to the office or after his arrest, of the circumstances. It was not until staff members contacted him after school hours to inform him of a TV news report about what was being alleged.
“It really saddened me when I heard the news around 5 o’clock,” Perales said. “Just learning about (the alleged incident) from the news service, it really is so tragic. ... Something like this just shakes you.”
Perales added that he talked to some students who were friendly with the accused student and told them that it was OK to “be supportive of their friend” and other students may not be supportive but to just let the investigation “take its course.” All students were notified that counselors were available if they wanted to talk about what happened.
“As a principal, you love kids and we are all here to support them. We always err on the side of trusting our students, supporting them and being their biggest cheerleader,” Perales said.
Regardless of the outcome, Perales said he wants his staff to use this as a “teaching point” so they can continue to have an “open and honest line of communication with students.” In fact, Perales, along with vice principal Greg Kapaku, had just spoken with the senior class earlier in the week about how to handle themselves for the prom and “being responsible, someone of character and doing the right thing.”
“If they are in a tough situation, we tell them to pick up a phone and call us. We will come get you,” said Perales, who described Christopher High as having a family-like atmosphere among students, faculty and staff.