Officers responding to a report of hysterical screams found an 8-year-old girl partially clothed and four boys, barely in their teens, running from an empty shed.
The boys, ages 9 to 14, face charges ranging from sexual assault to kidnapping, police said Thursday. Authorities in Phoenix say it's one of the most horrific cases they've ever seen.
Investigators said the boys lured the girl to an empty shed on July 16 under the pretense of offering her gum. The boys then held the girl down while they took turns raping her, police said.
"She was brutally sexually assaulted for a period of about 10 to 15 minutes," police Sgt. Andy Hill said.
The 14-year-old boy was charged Wednesday as an adult with two counts of sexual assault and kidnapping, the Maricopa County Attorney's Office said. He appeared in court Thursday and was being held without bond. He does not yet have a defense lawyer.
The other boys -- ages 9, 10, and 13 -- were charged as juveniles with sexual assault. The 10- and 13-year-old boys also were charged with kidnapping, the office said Thursday.
"This is a deeply disturbing case that has gripped our community," Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas said. "Our office will seek justice for the young victim in this heartrending situation."
The outrage over the allegations has intensified when police said the girl's parents criticized her after the attack and blamed her for bringing shame on the family.
"The father told the case worker and an officer in her presence that he didn't want her back. He said 'Take her, I don't want her,'" Hill said.
Hill cited the family's background as the reason the family shunned the girl. All five children are refugees from the West African nation of Liberia.
In some parts of Africa, women often are blamed for being raped for enticing men or simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Girls who are raped often are shunned by their families.
"It's a shame-based culture, so the crime is not as important as protecting the family name and the name of the community," said Tony Weedor, a Liberian refugee in Littleton, Colo., and co-founder of the CenterPoint International Foundation, which helps Liberians resettle in the United States.
"I just feel so sorry for this little girl," he said. "Some of these people will not care about the trauma she's going through -- they're more concerned about the shame she brought on the family."
In recent years, Liberia has made efforts to combat rape under the leadership of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who has sought to dispel the stigma associated with sexual assault by publicly acknowledging that she was herself the victim of attempted rape during the country's civil war.
The girl's healing process will be particularly difficult, said Paul Penzone of Childhelp, which aids young victims of crime. Authorities said the victim was in the care of Child Protective Services.
"These four boys used what was a ploy to entice her to a place where they could take advantage of her almost like a pack of wolves," he said.
"And what's so disturbing beyond the initial crime is the fact that a child needs to have somewhere to feel safe, and you would think that would be in a home with her own family," not in state custody, Penzone said.
TRENDING IN NEWS