SARATOGA -- Faster than wildfire, the story of three Saratoga High School boys arrested last week has spread around the world. They are accused of photographing themselves sexually assaulting a drunken, 15-year-old female classmate last fall and then distributing photos that allegedly went viral on social media. The victim, Audrie Pott, committed suicide shortly after.
But now, as more details of the tragic tale come to light, it seems there is doubt that the photos were posted on Facebook or other social media, some of Audrie's friends and classmates say. And, they contend, the images were not widely seen on campus.
The Pott family's high-profile attorney, Robert Allard, who specializes in sexual assault cases, will announce Monday details of their daughter's case and a lawsuit they plan to file.
On another side, the Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District refuses to speak to the media or answer questions. Attorneys for the three boys said the allegations have been exaggerated.
Meanwhile, the whole matter is frustrating for students at Saratoga High, where spring break begins this week. Many students said they didn't know about the photos or alleged assault. They are unhappy about the student body seemingly accused of being complicit in a crime.
"The photos never went 'viral,'" said Samuel Liu, an editor at the campus newspaper, the Falcon. "I don't believe many saw the photo at all."
On Labor Day weekend, Audrie, a sophomore, attended a party at the house of a friend whose parents were out of town. She drank alcohol-laced Gatorade and went to sleep, according to Allard. Later, he said, she learned that three boys had sex with her, took photos and then shared the images with others. Distraught that the photos spread among students, Allard said, eight days later, Audrie took her own life.
On Thursday -- seven months later -- Santa Clara County sheriff's deputies arrested three 16-year-olds. Their names are not being released because they are juveniles.
Took some time
According to several Saratoga students, the photos of the alleged assault never appeared on Facebook or other social media sites. Instead, they believe the three boys, members of the football team, showed others the photos on their phones. It's unknown whether anyone texted the photos to others.
As part of the lengthy investigation, the sheriff's office has confiscated many laptops and cellphones from students.
After Audrie took her life, some students found out what the boys allegedly did to her. "Their reputations kind of went down the drain," said one sophomore who is a friend of the three boys, but believes arresting them was the right thing to do. "I kind of just wonder why it took so long," said the boy, who did not want to be identified for fear of being associated with the case.
The three boys were arrested on suspicion of sexual battery-related charges and possession and distribution of harmful matter depicting a victim -- two felonies and one misdemeanor. They were booked into Santa Clara County Juvenile Hall.
After Audrie's suicide, detectives began investigating possible factors. The day she died, Audrie had been despondent about being bullied by two girlfriends, another friend said Sunday. "Audrie was the type of girl who wants to be loved, and to have her close girlfriends turn on her, it's got to hurt," said the friend, who didn't want to be named because her parents don't know she was at the party.
Investigators initially looked into allegations of bullying and multiple rumors circulating around upscale Saratoga High, sheriff's spokesman Jose Cardoza said. "Trying to get good, solid leads from the onset was kind of cumbersome."
Cited in the fall
In the fall, deputies cited the three boys for misdemeanor sexual assault. "If the information known to investigators later was known then, obviously they would not have been cited," said Cardoza. "They would have been arrested."
None of the boys was suspended or disciplined by the school, said Eric Geffon, the attorney for one of them. Nor were they kicked off the football team, he said. But a teammate said that none of the three played in any games the rest of the 2012 season. One of the boys soon transferred to Christopher High in Gilroy.
The school district refused to comment on any possible discipline. The State Education Code gives schools latitude in punishing students. A district may expel or suspend a student for physically injuring a person, bullying or causing harm to someone's mental health.
In a statement Sunday, Superintendent Bob Mistele said the district will "act accordingly" when the sheriff's investigation is complete. He also said that district records show no record of Audrie reporting bullying.
At the memorial service for Audrie, friends spoke of her warm and vibrant personality and her perfect face, according to an account in the Falcon newspaper. She had been profiled a year earlier for her skills in soccer, which she had played since she was 2.
On Thursday, the day of the arrests, Principal Paul Robinson pulled the two alleged assailants still at Saratoga High out of class, one classmate said. "'Get your stuff,'" he reportedly told one, "'and come with me.'"
Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/NoguchiOnK12.