MANTI, Utah (ABC4 News) – A 16-year-old was given a second chance after being convicted of forcible sexual abuse at his high school.
It started in late September when a report of a hazing incident reached the resource officer at Gunnison Valley High School.
But police called it more than hazing and a sexual assault against a 16-year-old began.
Gunnison police soon learned there were many more victims. There were reports of at least 15 victims spanning over several years.
Police said the victims, including one girl, were abused by the same athlete and he was eventually charged with 11 counts of forcible sex abuse.
Tuesday, the teen pleaded guilty and faced sentencing.
“This has been incredibly difficult for our family,” said one mother whose son was a victim. “The amount of grief this has created has been immeasurable. We have been called liars. We have been called racists. Our integrity has been questioned for telling the truth. For protecting my son.”
One by one, the victims faced the judge and told them about the pain and suffering they endured at the hands of their classmate. One teen told the judge of a disturbing incident involving sexual assault.
“There was not much I could do but beg him to stop,” said the teen whose name cannot be released because he is a juvenile. “It lasted for what seemed to be minutes. I struggled with him, thinking to myself why was this happening to me?”
His testimony was so compelling that many in the audience were in tears, stunned by what had happened to him.
Another teen said he didn’t want anyone to know what had happened to him. He was ashamed. It wasn’t until he was in physical pain that his secret came out.
“I knew something was wrong when I couldn’t get out of bed and was peeing blood,” he said. “The pain was unbearable in my stomach. They took me to the hospital and got scared.”
Parents of the victims claimed the sex abuse continued for several years and the school refused to discipline the 16-year-old. He was allowed to remain in school and the number of victims continued to mount.
It wasn’t until in late September that one teen bypassed school officials and contacted his resource officer, Carl Wimmer who is a member of the Gunnison Police Department.
“The hardest part has been the lack of apology and retaliation by calling me a snitch for telling the truth as to what happened,” he said in court.
But the defendant’s attorney said both the family and the 16-year-old are aware this was wrong.
“He feels bad,” said Greg Smith, the teen’s attorney. “He specifically apologizes to those people who he has hurt.”
After much debate, the judge sentenced the 16-year-old to probation, ordered therapy as an outpatient and was told to leave Gunnison and move in with his grandparents in St. George. He was also told he must attend an alternative high school.
“This is not over,” said Judge Brody Keisel. “It’s now up to you.”
Two other teens charged with crimes related to the incident have already pleaded guilty and were given probation, community service but were not ordered to leave Gunnison.
The deputy Sanpete County attorney said locking him up was not an option because of recent changes to laws affecting juveniles.
The mother of one of the victims was satisfied with the outcome.
“There is definitely is a relief knowing that this chapter in our life (is over),” said Misty Cox. “We can move forward and we can start the grieving process and the forgiveness process.”
Cox has already filed a civil lawsuit against Gunnison Valley High School and the South Sanpete school district.