A tenth suspect has been arrested in La Vernia, Texas on charges of sexual assault in a case that involves at least 10 alleged victims and has rattled the tiny town of 1,200 just southeast of San Antonio.
La Vernia High School senior Alejandro Ibarra, 17, was charged on Wednesday with sexual assault, just two days after his Varsity football teammates, 17-year-old Robert Olivarez, Jr. and 18-year-old Dustin Norman, were arrested in the case. Seven juveniles were also arrested last week and charged with sexual assault, according to La Vernia Police Chief Bruce Ritchey.
Police have said other teams in the athletic department, including the baseball and basketball teams, were also involved in the alleged assaults.
Up to—and after—his arrest, Ibarra actively supported his accused teammates on Facebook, commenting on several community threads. On one local reporter’s Facebook post concerning Olivarez’s and Norman’s arrests, Ibarra wrote, “These two didn't take apart of it,” and “They didn't do anything... I was with them every day and we were never involved in this stupid shit!...If you don't know the whole story behind it don't bother commenting... and yes they are my friends... my brothers.. I was raised with them.”
Ibarra is the most recent, but not likely to be the last, student charged in what seems like an ever-widening case of alleged systematic sexual assault within the school’s popular athletic program. “Every time we turn around, we find another suspect, more victims. We anticipate more arrests in the future,” Ritchey told The Daily Beast on Tuesday.
The three teens and one other suspect are accused of holding down a 16-year-old boy who was transferring from Junior Varsity to Varsity football, and sexually assaulting the player as part of a November 2016 initiation, according to arrest affidavits. The players were all at a home off-campus when they shouted “Get him!” and allegedly pinned the 16-year-old face down on a bed while sodomizing him with the threaded end of a carbon-dioxide tank.
“The victim struggled to stop the assault, but was overpowered by the four suspects and pinned down where he could not move,” wrote La Vernia police Sgt. Donald Keil, in the arrest affidavits.
The first of at least 10 alleged victims came forward to the police during the first week of March, Ritchey announced this week. They were immediately given forensic interviews at the children’s advocacy-center, during which police have said they determined that multiple crimes had, in fact, allegedly been committed. The Texas Rangers and the Wilson County Sheriff’s Office were both brought in to assist, Ritchey said, because of the size of the case.
Hours after his arrest, Ibarra posted bail and again took to Facebook, replying to a post about his own charges with, “We are innocent. Watch and see!”
On Wednesday night, Father Stan Fiuk, of St. Ann’s Catholic Church, hosted a youth ministry in which he called for mercy and forgiveness during a difficult time for the community.
"Our society doesn't want to see something wrong. When something wrong happens, we want to crucify them. This is a little bit hypocritical," Fiuk said. "We want to see only negative, but I am asking where is positive? Not only on the level of La Vernia, but on the level of the state, on the level of the country, we are sick. These children need mercy and we have to learn to be merciful because they are victims of the sick society."
Shannon Kosub, director of religious education at the church, told local media: "I hope that those in our community that our true Christians will show true mercy to everyone involved and will reach out to show love. Because that's all our duty is, is to love."
Meanwhile, Sue Coats, owner of Grandma’s House Childcare, told The Daily Beast on Thursday she has planned a 5K walk-a-thon to benefit the facility that conducted the alleged victims’ forensic interviews: the Children’s Alliance of South Texas.
“They help children,” she said on Thursday.
“This is something we’re doing because La Vernia has such a black cloud over it right now,” Coats added. “As we were talking to people, it kept growing and growing.”
Now, the whole town, including Mayor Robert Gregory, is involved in the walk-a-thon event, scheduled for April 29 in La Vernia City Park—just behind the high school football field. Afterwards, the community will enjoy a live band and chicken and sausage plates.
Coats is sponsoring the event in cooperation with other local businesses.
“April is child abuse month, and there’s so much going on in La Vernia that we were going to try to put this together for some positive and drive away the negative,” she said. “Children don’t have to be abused.”
Community efforts aside, the case has shaken the community’s faith in La Vernia’s small school district, according to one parent who asked not to be named. The school has declined to comment, noting the ongoing investigations.
“There’s been lots of talks in the community about transferring school districts and home schooling,” the parent said. “They don’t want their kids there anymore.”