EAST ST. LOUIS — Police are holding two male students in connection with a report that a 16-year-old female student was raped at East St. Louis Senior High School.
Investigators are releasing few details at this time to protect the integrity of their case, Police Chief Michael Floore said.
Floore said he could confirm that an investigation is under way and that two juvenile boys were at the police station being interviewed by juvenile detectives. He stressed that they have not been charged and will not be indentified unless they are charged.
Floore said an East St. Louis school resource officer called police at 1 p.m. Wednesday to report that a criminal sexual assault had allegedly taken place at the high school.
He said after a police officer reviewed videotapes at the school, a conclusion was made that something may have happened.
"We brought two juvenile males in for questioning regarding this matter and that is where we are right now," Floore said.
Family members of the victim said they believe district officials initially tried to cover the situation up.
Beth Shepperd, assistant superintendent for human resources and community relations, said district officials are aware "that there's been an alleged rape."
She said the district has not tried to cover up anything. In fact, the district was notified Tuesday and police were immediately called along with the Division of Children and Family Services, Shepperd said. And, she said the district began an immediate investigation of their own.
"Our investigation is not concluded, but we removed the students who were allegedly involved and we're doing everything we can to ensure our students are as safe and as secure as possible. That's why we want to determine what occurred and determine whether there are other things we can do to make things safer. She said she can not confirm that a rape occurred because the district's investigation is just getting under way.
Shepperd said student safety is a top priority and district officials will get to the bottom of what happened.
The boys who were involved are all younger than 18, she said.
Jennifer Wren, the aunt of the victim, said the family believes school officials initially tried to cover it up. Wren said school officials tried to keep the victim from speaking with police.
"They told the police the mother didn't want to press charges. My sister initially did tell police that, but, she did so because school officials told her that she shouldn't pursue it because there was nothing on the video tape. When the police reached out to my sister and asked her why didn't she want to pursue it because they had seen the tape where the boy pushed my niece into the closet and when she came out of closet she was crying and fixing her clothes, my sister said the school told her nothing had happened. She believed them," Wren said.
Wren said the videotape shows that one boy held the closet door closed and two others were inside of the closet with her niece. And a lot of students were in the hallway laughing when her niece walked out of the closet crying and wiping her eyes.
Shepperd said repeatedly that district officials would not attempt to cover up anything. "The district called the police so they could investigate and talk to all parties. We didn't instruct anyone not to contact the police. Our expectation was that she would talk to the police.
"The high school principal was present during all conversations with the family related to the investigation. At no time did a district official say that he or she had viewed the tape and nothing happened," Shepperd said.
"We want answers. We want to know why they told her nothing had happened, why the teacher didn't do anything when the boy drug her out of the classroom. Where was security, because security should have been there? She's a special-needs student." Wren said.
Shepperd said the video does not show that a student dragged the victim from the classroom, but she said she can't discuss anything more because an investigation is under way to see what roles the adults at the school played in this.
She said at this point district officials have no confirmation that a rape occurred. Shepperd said they are investigating an alleged rape and until the investigation is concluded, she can not affirm anything.
"We are not denying that an incident occurred," Shepperd said. "We have a statement from the alleged victim, and we are going to investigate until we find out what did occur and draw a conclusion."
Wren said the victim told her mother what happened to her Monday evening, and when she and her daughter went up to the school Tuesday, that's when a school official told the 33-year-old mother that she didn't want to see the way her daughter was acting on the video.
"He told my sister that her daughter was willing and that she didn't want to see the way she was acting on that video," Wren said.
Shepperd also said this never happened, because the principal was present.
Wren said her niece is mentally and emotionally traumatized and does not want to return the school. She said her sister is looking into home-schooling and also looking for another school to put her child in, all because of this.
Wren said her niece "is already dealing with her own issues and for her to be violated like this. She will have to deal with the memories of this event for the rest of her life. She feels humiliated and degraded. We want justice to the highest degree, even if that means some people have to lose their jobs. And, those boys need to be prosecuted."
Wren said she was told the teacher who was in the classroom when the event happened was suspended. Shepperd said it is routine to put anyone involved in a serious happening that threatens the safety of a child on paid administrative leave.
She said this is automatically done "so that we can conduct a thorough and untampered investigation. It is not a statement that the employee has done something wrong."
Floore confirmed late Thursday that the Police Department has obtained a copy of the video. He said when the investigation is concluded, the case will be turned over to St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly's office to be reviewed for possible charges.
Contact reporter Carolyn P. Smith at 618-239-2503.