Students and parents were stunned and upset by allegations that 14 Venice High School students allegedly took part in sex crimes dating back more than a year. Ten teenage boys were arrested Friday; all but two on campus.
Los Angeles police were trying to locate four others, three days after the school district alerted law enforcement about possible sexual misconduct.
"I have not been to a class today where the teacher and everybody else was not talking about it," said Amarie Pope, 14.
Authorities provided few details about the allegations and declined to identify the boys who were arrested because they are minors, all between the ages of 14 and 17. The alleged victims are two girls from the school. Sources in law enforcement and L.A. Unified said some of the boys are members of the high school’s football and basketball programs.
Mary Ramirez was at work as a barista at Los Angeles International Airport when she got an automated call from Venice High, her son's school. At first she thought it was because Jonny, a 14-year-old sophomore, had been late. She said she couldn’t breathe after hearing that students had been arrested.
She texted her son immediately, worried that he might have been a victim. He responded, telling her that he was OK.
"It's a parent's nightmare," said Ramirez, dabbing her eyes with a tissue as she waited outside the campus to pick up her son.
School safety was a top factor when she considered high schools for her son, she said. "But wherever you go, you can't escape."
She said the school should consider uniforms, more security and more sexual education classes.
Monica Martinez, a 17-year-old, saw the drama unfold in her third-period math class. A student messenger knocked on the door to summon a student to the office. The girl said she requested a bathroom pass and followed them.
At the base of a staircase, she saw the boy talking to waiting officers. They handcuffed him, read him his rights and took him into a small room, she said.
Twelfth-grader Gabriel Siria said he was on his way to his second-period history class when he walked past two school administrators with police officers. He watched as three students were handcuffed in the hallway outside of class.
Elizabeth Alvarez, 14, was not so surprised by the events of the day. She said a racy photo that circulated on Instagram had started students talking. On Friday, she said she saw one student apparently taken into custody in the school cafeteria.
Viviana Reyes, a 10th-grader, said her classmates spent most of the day trying to piece together what led to the arrests. Rumors flew through the hallways. Teachers provided a vague explanation, but mostly urged them not to talk to the media.
Viviana said the allegations cast the school in a negative light
"It's embarrassing," she said while standing under the shade of a tree, waiting for a ride home. "The whole world knows about this school and for this. It's really awful."
Some parents and students made a point to defend the quality of the school’s academic and sports programs and its extracurricular activities. But there also was concern about the level of adult supervision on the sprawling campus.
A source in the school district said the accusations involved a group of male students working together to pressure girls into having sex. The source, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said the boys were accused of threatening the reputations of the girls.
On Tuesday, school district officials called Los Angeles police to report that they had identified a possible sexual assault victim. Detectives then launched an investigation and identified the two victims.
L.A. Unified Supt. Ramon Cortines said the students’ parents had been notified and crisis counselors were on campus to assist any other students.
“This is a painful moment for Venice High School and this district,” the superintendent said in a statement. “I want you to know that no sexual misconduct of any kind by students or staff will ever be tolerated in L.A. Unified.”