Students returning to a distressed high school in La Vernia, a small community 30 miles southeast of San Antonio, Texas will be offered help for their grief beginning Monday, March 27, 2017. The region was rattled over the police apprehension of seven classmates who were charged with sexual assault of at least ten students.
Seven male students from the varsity football, basketball and baseball teams were allegedly involved in severe sexual hazing conduct that occurred in the boy’s athletic locker room and possibly other locations. More victims, including possibly some from previous years, are expected to come forward as the school district places into action their plans to offer help.
“During this time, I would like you to know that my staff and I are here for you and your child to meet any need that arises,” stated La Vernia High School Principal Kimberley Martin over social media Sunday.
“On Friday, March 24th during 2nd period, I let students know through an announcement that counselors and administrators are available for support and guidance during this difficult time,” Martin wrote. “In addition, all high school staff continually focus on building relationships with all students, and they have been reminded to be more observant and aware of student behaviors. If any students seem to be behaving out of the ordinary, La Vernia High School Staff know that they are to make an immediate report to the campus leadership team.”
“On Monday, March 27th, students will be given email addresses of all counselors and administrators. If at any time your child does not feel comfortable going to the office, they will have an additional option to make contact with someone to provide assistance.”
Martin indicated that La Vernia Police Department contact information for victim outreach and anonymous tips related to the investigation will be provided.
“Please do not let the recent event of a small group define all of us,” Martin urged. “Now more than anything, we need to come together and support each other. La Vernia High School is an excellent school with excellent students, teachers and staff.”
In a Sunday evening social media message, Superintendent José H. Moreno asked the community “that we tell our story before someone tells it for us. Share the wonderful attributes of our kids and the families that raise them. Let others know that we as a community will not be defined by the negative press outside of our community and various social media outlets.”
One angry father, who contacted NEWS LEGIT blamed the assaults on the athletic program. “Like many schools La Vernia is very proud of their sports team. It is a priority. Football is king. Period. You will hear more about that before you hear about academics. It’s no wonder this kids think they could get by with such horrendous acts. Do they think they are entitled? What is so wrong that at least one of those boys would have told the others that ‘hey, let’s think about this. This is not right. This is illegal.’ Why didn’t they stop each other? How can anyone defend or excuse that?”
Superintendent Moreno suggested the community should “be proud to let them know that just this past week our Bears and Lady Bears soccer teams defeated their opponents in the first round of playoffs. Let them know that the Bears and Lady Bears baseball and softball teams celebrated another great win last Friday night.”
“Our staff, teachers, and administrators are like no other,” Moreno wrote.
“Let them know that we were the only school district recognized at the San Antonio Mayor’s Cup Award Banquet yesterday for having two Junior High School teams that were recognized for having the Best All Girls Cyber Patriots Team in Texas and the Top Middle School Team in Texas that ranked 14th in the nation, while in a room with over 1000 people to hear,” Moreno continued. “Our Cyber Patriots teams competed in a competition against 200 other teams. These are just a few of the incredible stories that define our identity.”
“Our staff, teachers, and administrators are like no other,” Moreno wrote. “They are Committed to knowing every student by name and need, have High Expectations, Respect those they serve, are Student-Centered, and through Teamwork achieve the goals they set out to achieve. They are a team which goes above and beyond and cares about the students they serve. Our staff, teachers, and administrators are the reason that so many families want to move to La Vernia and enroll their children in La Vernia ISD.”
“This administration and superintendent are clueless,” La Vernia resident Mark Beyer replied to Moreno’s statements on Facebook. “It’s easy to sit by and comment on how things ‘should’ of been after the fact. If the emphasis has always been on our kids, this never would of been allowed to happen. I’m sorry, this community deserves more.”
“If you actually enforce your zero tolerance, there wouldn’t be so many families pulling their kids out and home schooling,” commented Laura Wojczynski Rist. “I know to many families that did because you stood and did nothing until police got involved.”
La Vernia Police Sergeant Donald Keil indicated there may likely be more arrests, but the current emphasis is to take care of the known victims. He is asking for any parents of other victims to contact him at (830) 779-2113 or send him an email at dkeillvpd@lavernia-TX.gov.
“Being able to give them those immediate resources that are available for them to start this healing process and we have those resources ready for them so they can visit if they come forward,” Kiel told one reporter.
“…people are speculating that all of this happened at the school and that is not necessarily true.”
One source close to the investigation, who asked to remain anonymous told NEWS LEGIT that “I will say this… people are speculating that all of this happened at the school and that is not necessarily true.”
“Until the investigation is complete and more information can be shared, people really need to refrain from making assumptions and speculations,” the source said. “There’s a lot of finger pointing and accusations about who is responsible. Those things are all very irresponsible actions.”
Superintendent Dr. Moreno confirmed “that we are all under strict guidelines from the authorities not to discuss any information as the investigation continues.”
Dr. Moreno sent an original letter out Thursday:
Dear La Vernia Parents and Community, A complaint was filed in reference to High School Boys’ Athletics. The District is aware of the complaint and is fully cooperating with the authorities as they conduct a thorough investigation. The District is under strict guidelines and is not able to comment on the complaint at this time. Rest assured that every precautionary measure has been taken to ensure that our students are supervised and safe. If you have any questions, please contact the La Vernia Police Department at 830-779-4541.
Some of the victims had a forensic interview with representatives and counselors from the Children’s Alliance of South Texas (CAST) based out of nearby Floresville, Texas. One of the primary goals of the interviews is to reduce the number of times each victim has to tell his story of their abuse.
Police say they received “an outcry of hazing involving high school student athletes” several weeks ago. After the interviews, investigators determined “crime had been committed.”
“I can’t tell you how hurt we are. He will never be the same. It was senseless.”
“We have many students who excel academically and in extracurricular activities,” Principal Martin wrote. “We have so much more positive to focus on than negative, so let’s focus on the positive because our students deserve that!”
A mother of one of the victims who asked not to be publicly identified contacted NEWS LEGIT’s Jack Dennis Friday “because I don’t want these punks to get away with this. They held (her son) down, ridiculed him. They tortured him like he was an animal. They stuck things up his butt. These bastards had been doing it to others too. It was like a game. I can’t tell you how hurt we are. He will never be the same. It was senseless. Where were the coaches? It was like a mob attack.”
Other relatives and students contacted Dennis over the weekend to offer information they though the public should know. Dennis has referred them to Sgt. Keil.
“I left the school district because I could not get help from them when this happened to me,” a former student, now a college student informed. “I asked for help, but when it came to the football guys, to me they were protected.”
The uncle of a family from La Vernia sent a message indicating his nephew “suffered the same type of treatment by members of the football team. Complaints to school officials about the hazing fell on deaf ears and ultimately he was pulled from school. He finished high school being home-schooled.”
Local news outlets reported another mother of a victim described the sexual assault on her son:
“Kids were holding them down in the locker rooms, there was a lookout at the door watching for coaches not to come. They hold them down and stick various items up their rectum… including coke bottles, deodorant bottles, steel pipes, baseball bats and broom sticks.”
According to a statement from La Vernia Police Chief Bruce Ritchey and Sergeant Keil, the suspects were “magistrated and processed by the Wilson County Juvenile Probation Office.”
“I ask that we unite and focus on recovering through this challenging time together,” Moreno wrote Sunday. “I encourage you to be thoughtful before posting negative comments on various social media outlets that may be hurtful to students, staff, and community members. Let’s instead use it as a tool to communicate our true identity and tell a story of our wonderful students and their accomplishments.”
“Our high school administration and athletic directors are implementing additional protocols to provide students a clear path of communication to report a concern, receive counseling, and know that their voices will be heard while maintaining their privacy,” Moreno continued. “We will provide periodic updates on upcoming events and activities geared to help our students and community members. Let’s work together during this time of need and align our efforts for the children and students of our community.”
“A forensic interview is a structured conversation with a child intended to elicit detailed information about a possible event(s) that the child may have experienced or witnessed,” CAST informs. “A recording of the interview with the child is made available to agencies involved, thus reducing the number of times the child must retell the story. We do not want a child to relive their trauma each time.”
After the interviews, a Child Protective Service investigator or law enforcement investigator helped each victim what to expect during the next stage of the investigative process. A Family Advocate is assigned to remain in contact and follow-up to continue support for the child and parents through the investigative process.
The Texas Child Abuse Hotline is 1-800-252-5400.
Jack Dennis can be reached at email@example.com.
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