The parents of a 15-year-old girl who was gang-raped outside Richmond High School's homecoming dance last weekend are asking the community to put vengeance aside and work to ensure that such a horrific crime doesn't repeat itself.
At a meeting for parents Saturday morning at the high school, the Rev. Jim Wheeler, the family's pastor at First Presbyterian Church Richmond, read a statement from the victim's parents.
"Stop the violence," Wheeler read. "Please do not respond to this tragic event by promoting hatred or causing more pain."
The parents urged community members to take action in positive ways. "Volunteer at a school," they said. "Help a neighbor. Be courageous in speaking the truth and in holding people accountable."
"Work toward changing the atmosphere in our schools and in the community so that this kind of thing never happens again," Wheeler read. "Please do not let this happen again."
Before he read the statement, Wheeler told the audience, "You need to know that it comes from a father who was trained by the military to kill and a mother who has a mama tiger inside of her."
Police have said the girl was assaulted by between seven and 10 people the night of Oct. 24, while as many as a dozen others watched. The attack lasted more than two hours.
Wheeler was one of dozens of speakers who addressed a panel in the school's auditorium that included mental health workers, domestic violence prevention advocates and West Contra Costa Unified School District board member Antonio Medrano. About 200 people attended the meeting. Many wore headsets to listen to a Spanish translation of the speakers' comments.
Many speakers said they or their loved ones had been victims of violence at the high school or in the surrounding community.
One man's wife had been raped. Another woman had been raped herself and had given birth to a child who was murdered at age 15. One woman's younger brother, a Richmond High student, was killed two blocks from the family's home. All, though, emphasized the need to put anger aside and focus on forgiveness and addressing the root of the problem.
The Rev. Kamal Hassan, of Sojourner Truth Presbyterian Church, said he was friends with Deborah Ross, the toll collector who was gunned down at the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge in August along with her friend, Ersie "Chuck" Everette, by Ross' ex-boyfriend.
"My heart is broken again because of a serious act of violence against a woman," he said. "We have not learned to rightly value the bodies and lives of women."
"We need to begin to get at the souls of our young people that have been so wounded by living in a community in crisis," he said.
Miguel Cervantes, 20, graduated from Richmond High in 2007. He described for the panel Saturday how his little brother, a Richmond High student, had been attacked and how his sister had to stop attending the school because she had been jumped too many times.
"It's an epidemic," Cervantes said. "It's Richmond. It's a virus to this community. It's like AIDS; it cannot be stopped - but it can be controlled."
Last weekend's assault occurred in a dark, secluded area of the school where the girl had joined a group of people drinking, police said.
One man who spoke Saturday attended Richmond High in the 1970s and said that particular spot was just as isolated then as it is now. "We got away with everything right there in that same area ... more than 30 years ago."
School board member Medrano said there are plans to erect a fence around the area and to install 125 cameras throughout the school. The changes were approved by the school board's safety committee on Thursday and will be considered by the full board this week.
"The cameras are coming in and the fencing is coming in," he said.
On Tuesday afternoon, teachers and students plan to hold a speak-out in front of campus followed by a candlelight vigil.
The Contra Costa County District Attorney's office has charged four people in connection with the gang rape, including three juveniles who are being charged as adults. A fifth person is in custody but has not yet been charged.
Bay City News