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The courtyard on the other side of the fence on the campus of Richmond High School, which was the scene of a rape Saturday night, is photographed in Richmond, Calif., Monday, Oct. 26, 2009. (Kristopher Skinner/Staff)
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A hint of resignation tinges Margarita Vargas' voice when she talks about the people who gang raped a 15-year-old girl at Richmond High School on Saturday.

"They think it's cool," said Vargas, who called police to report the ongoing assault. "They weren't raised to respect girls."

The investigation into the two-hour rape outside the school's homecoming dance continued Tuesday, as police leafleted the campus to advertise a $20,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of anyone who participated. Detectives continued wall-to-wall interviews of students and former students, having already arrested a 15-year-old boy and 19-year-old Manuel Ortega.

"This is a fluid investigation," Detective Ken Greco said. "There will be more arrests.

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Police will meet with prosecutors Wednesday to discuss charges for those in custody.

Meanwhile, young people in Richmond increasingly feel as though they are on trial themselves, as a national chorus of gawkers judges them based on the inaction of the few who hooted and laughed, punched the girl as she lay semiconscious on a bench, and even joined in the assault after word of it got around.

Strangers e-mailed the school, comparing its students to animals.

Vargas only cares what one person thinks -- the victim -- and she wants her to know that it matters to someone.

Atianna Gibbs, knows it could have been her sister.


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And a Richmond High student named Alexandra, worried enough about her safety to withhold her last name, says the victim would have died if police hadn't broken up the assault, an alcohol-fueled gang rape as the homecoming dance went on in the gym.

"We called the police as soon as we found out," Vargas said. "As soon as we found out."

"No matter who she was, who she was before, she doesn't deserve that," Gibbs said.

They were watching "The Proposal" on television Saturday night when word suddenly arrived from campus, two blocks away: A girl got drunk after homecoming. A bunch of guys stripped her naked and were using her. At school. Right now.

"I was on Emeric (Avenue) with some friends when some dudes walked up and were like, 'There's a drunk girl back there,' " said Raul Rubio, who brought back the news to his girlfriend. "They said she was naked, and if you want to get f---ed, go back there."

Rubio did not. Nor did he want to risk arrest. He found someone with a phone as quickly as he could, he said. Several of the women at Vargas' walked to the perimeter of the crime scene after calling 911 but were too afraid to proceed further without police presence. Officers arrived quickly and broke up the trouble, arresting Ortega as they say he ran from them.

The victim remained hospitalized Tuesday in stable condition. This newspaper does not identify victims of sexual assault.

The victim left the dance by herself about 9:30 p.m. to get a ride home, Greco said. She walked up 23rd Street toward Emeric, intending to phone her father for her ride.

But before she did, a classmate called to her from behind a cyclone fence separating a campus courtyard from the street. He hopped the fence, and together they returned to the shadowy, hidden spot, where a group of people were drinking and hanging out.

The victim drank a large amount of brandy quickly, police say, and was soon incapacitated. While semiconscious, she was raped. As many as seven people assaulted her as she lay on a bench, while others jeered, beat her, robbed her and took photos with their cell phones. Police say they don't know how many people watched during the course of the attack, but some reports have said as many 20.

For several days, the community has struggled to understand how so many could stand by and watch, failing to call police or alert other adults in the area.

"It's all about, 'What are others going to think about me if I snitch? If no one else is saying it, then it must not be OK" to speak up, said Tatiana Colon, director of education and youth services at the Family Violence Law Center in Oakland.

"The culture that we've created is that it's OK to speak your mind if you're being tough," she said. "Snitching is not something we equate with toughness. Being sensitive and nice and conscientious is not something we equate with toughness."

The lack of action on the part of bystanders will make recovery for the victim that much more difficult, said Marcia Blackstock, executive director of Bay Area Women Against Rape.

"To have other people witness and not do anything about it will really compound her issues," Blackstock said.

Witnesses who failed to report the crime could be charged with aiding and abetting if police can show their actions facilitated or goaded the perpetrators, said Dara Cashman, head of the Contra Costa District Attorney's Office sex crimes unit. Passively watching the crime is not a crime itself unless the victim is younger than 14.

Neil Smelser, a professor emeritus of sociology at UC Berkeley, said crowds in such situations often can be broken into four categories: those who perpetrate the action; those who actively encourage it but don't participate; those who observe without supporting or speaking out against the action; and those who object to it and may or may not vocalize that to the rest of the group.

"They may think, 'Why do I need to get involved in this if it doesn't involve me?' Maybe they're stunned, maybe it's denial, or fear," Smelser said. "You don't necessarily want to blame these people in not getting involved and calling police. You often have to avoid simple judgments and look at all the circumstances. It's the kind of scene that encourages a helpless feeling."

For the school district's part, officials plan to "review and revise our protocols," said Marin Trujillo, spokesman for West Contra Costa Unified.

"There were two site supervisors at the dance. One left at 9 p.m., had a previous engagement. Another was dismissed by a teacher. They were going to close the doors; there were four Richmond police officers there, and they felt they had enough security."

Staff writer Malaika Fraley contributed to this story. Reach Karl Fischer at 510-262-2728. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/kfischer510. Reach Shelly Meron at 510-243-3578. Follow her on Twitter @shellymeron.

How to help
  • Richmond police ask anyone with information about the case to call Detective Ken Greco at 510-620-6618. The department is offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to arrest and conviction of those responsible.
  • Richmond High School invites parents to attend a meeting to discuss the homecoming assault from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday.
  • The West Contra Costa Unified School District Safety Subcommittee will meet Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Richmond High School, 1250 23rd St.