Four teen-age boys charged with rape of 13-year-old girl

Incident took place at home for neglected children

October 25, 2002|By Stephanie Hanes | Stephanie Hanes,SUN STAFF

Four young boys - two 13- year-olds and two 14- year-olds - have been charged with gang raping a 13- year-old girl who lived with them at a children's group home in Catonsville.

The girl told Baltimore County police that she was attacked Sept. 8 in the woods bordering the sprawling, manicured campus of The Children's Home, a state-licensed, nonprofit facility that provides residential and custodial care to abused and neglected children.

The two 14-year-olds, Erik R. Stewart and Shawn E. Johnson, have been charged as adults, a requirement for teen-agers 14 and older who face a charge - in this case, first-degree rape - that carries a possible life sentence.

Stewart and Johnson were in Circuit Court this week. Their attorneys can ask a judge to move the cases to Juvenile Court.

The public defender representing Johnson could not be reached for comment yesterday. Court papers did not name Stewart's attorney. The Sun does not identify suspects charged as juveniles or the victims of sexual assaults.

Andre G. Cooper, chief executive officer of The Children's Home, would not comment on the allegations, although he said none of the children involved in the case were still living at the Bloomsbury Avenue complex.

Members of the home's board of directors said they knew about the charges. The boys were charged the morning after the alleged attacks.

"We are aware of it, and staff is supposedly reviewing procedures to determine what, if anything, should be done," said Edward J. Adkins, an attorney and the board's treasurer.

According to police reports, the girl had argued with staff members the evening of the alleged attacks. One staff member had warned her not to "go AWOL," or absent without leave.

The girl told police she soon fell asleep outside with her security blanket on concrete steps. A staff member woke her up and told her to go inside, she told police, but she ignored the direction and fell back asleep.

The staff, which police said was having a difficult time with residents that night, was focused on getting the youngsters into their cottages, the brick dwellings on campus, and left the girl alone.

A little later that night, some boys approached her and asked if she would "go AWOL" with them, she told police.

"I told them `yeah,' but I didn't know they were going to have sex with me," the girl said, according to an officer's report.

In the woods, the boys pinned her down and took turns raping her, according to the police report.

Staffers at the home called police to report that a group of juveniles had run away, according to the police report. Patrol cars and a police helicopter started looking for the teen-agers.

When the boys saw the helicopter overhead, they stopped attacking her, the girl told police.

Later that night, the girl told her counselors about the alleged attack. She was taken to a hospital for a sexual assault forensic exam, where doctors found physical signs of trauma, police reported. Officers also found used condoms in the area where she said the attacks occurred.

Prosecutors and police said teen-agers as young as 13 and 14 are rarely accused of rape. Of the 108 people arrested in rape cases in Baltimore County last year, eight were younger than 18, said police spokesman Bill Toohey.

"Rape by people this young is very unusual," he said.

Children's group homes, which provide housing for youngsters with some of the most troubling cases of abuse and neglect, often encounter youths with histories of sexual abuse. Counselors say these youths are more prone to act out sexually.

"It's so, so hard for these agencies," said Maureen Robinson, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore County Department of Social Services, an agency that places children in homes such as The Children's Home. "These youngsters are often so difficult. The kids are so, so distraught often by the time we get into it."

She said The Children's Home has a solid reputation among state agencies.

Forrest Foss, the home's board president, echoed Robinson's sentiment, saying he hoped the allegations would not taint his organization.

"It's a wonderful place, it's got some terrific staff there," he said.

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