With classes finished for the day at Vista Murrieta High School, members of the highly ranked Broncos football team counted their jumping jacks and broke off into drills, the sun gleaming off their helmets. The cross-country team sprinted by, and other students climbed into cars and buses, some lugging musical instruments.
Days after two 17-year-old football players were charged with felony sex crimes involving underage victims — some younger than 14 — parents and students at the Murrieta campus were swift to condemn such behavior as well as defend the school.
They boasted that Vista Murrieta, which has grown to 3,500 students since opening a decade ago, was the pride of the district — a powerhouse in academics as well as athletics, a school parents went out of their way to get their children into.
These allegations haven’t changed that.
“It’s very alarming. It sets a bad example for the rest of the students,” Elaine Arceo said Wednesday as she waited in the carpool line to pick up her son, a freshman. She said Vista Murrieta has “a good reputation, especially in football. I really wanted my son to come to this school. … The school is like two in one: good in sports, good academically. It’s just unfortunate this happened.”
Though the cases are in Juvenile Court, prosecutors released the defendants’ names, citing a state law allowing disclosure when the charges are deemed serious or violent. Records in the cases were not made public.
One of the school’s top players, senior running back Kishawn Tre Holmes, faces charges that include two counts of lewd acts with a child under 14, three counts of false imprisonment, one count of dissuading a witness and two counts of rape, Riverside County prosecutors said.
Authorities said the victims were students in the district.
The assaults did not take place on campus, authorities said, although Holmes is accused of falsely imprisoning two minors there. Prosecutors said Holmes tried to dissuade one victim from reporting the crime.
Another player, senior defensive lineman Byron Keith Holt, has also been charged. John Hall, a district attorney spokesman, declined to disclose specifics other than saying the crimes were deemed a serious and violent felony.
Holt’s attorney, Miles Clark, said his client was accused of having sex with a minor. “They charged him because she is under 18,” said Clark, who added that he doesn’t know the girl’s age. “He comes from a very good family and they are very supportive of him.”
Holt’s mother defended him, telling KTLA that his case was “totally something different” from the Holmes case.
Authorities said the investigation began when a parent reported an incident to school faculty members, who notified a school resource officer. Investigators were alerted Sept. 3, and the two players were arrested about a week later.
Holmes had been among the school’s top football prospects, impressing recruiting analysts and attracting the interest of several universities, including UCLA, Boise State and Colorado. Scout.com called Holmes one of the West’s emerging offensive prospects and the latest star to come from a program that in recent years has been “churning out elite prospects.”
Neither Holmes nor Holt, a senior defensive lineman, has played this season, and Coach Coley Candaele has removed them from the team.
In Juvenile Court on Tuesday, a judge ordered that Holmes be held until an Oct. 30 hearing. In a separate hearing, Holt was released pending another court date.
The district has said that the “allegations against these students certainly do not represent what we are about at Vista Murrieta.” A district spokeswoman added that Murrieta Unified was “cooperating fully” with the investigation.
“Our hope is that the actions of a few students won’t take away from the 3,500 students who are doing the right thing every day,” district officials said in a statement.
The school has grown as quickly as Murrieta itself, a city of subdivisions in the rocky hills of southwestern Riverside County that incorporated in 1991 and has since quadrupled in size to 100,000 residents.
Vista Murrieta’s football program has been rated among the best in the country and is currently No. 5 in The Times’ Southern California rankings. Candaele was named The Times’ coach of the year after the 2011 season.
Pride in the school has flourished because of the football success, with MaxPreps repeatedly ranking Vista Murrieta the most spirited in the nation. A group of student boosters — the Bronco Bleacher Creatures — fills the stands during games, and the school walls and students are decked out on game days in navy and gold.
Duayne Christopherson, whose daughter is a freshman, said he was wowed by the show of school spirit he saw at orientation events.
“The spirit is very high, and the expectations are high,” he said. “It’s a very high-spirited school.”
Sydney Loa, an 11th-grader, said she has talked to her friends about the allegations. But it hasn’t been brought up in class, and she said she wasn’t concerned about it blemishing Vista Murrieta’s reputation.
“We’re something bigger than that,” she said of the accusations.
Rojas reported from Murrieta and Winton from Los Angeles.