ORLANDO, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35) - A brutal 9-on-1 attack that was recorded on a cell phone could lead to hate crime charges.
Investigators with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said Friday they arrested nine Westridge Middle School students in connection to the April 13 beating of the 16 year-old Orlando boy. All nine are currently charged with felony level robbery.
During the investigation into the incident, Sheriff’s Office Spokesperson Jane Watrel said some of the boys fessed up to the reason for the attack.
“Some of the juveniles talked to our detectives and admitted that they targeted the victim because of his sexual orientation,” said Watrel.
During an interview last week the victim’s mother and cousin told FOX 35 that they suspected the 16 year-old was attacked because he was questioning his sexuality.
“They would say stuff, hurtful stuff like gay and stuff like that,” the boy’s cousin said.
Watrel said detectives weren’t originally classifying the attack as a hate crime because no slurs or evidence of sexual orientation as a motive could be heard or seen on the cell phone video of the attack. Now with the admissions from some of the teens, Watrel said that state attorney in charge of juvenile cases was looking into the possibility of enhanced charges; which could include hate crime charges.
The development was called disturbing by some in Orlando’s LGBTQ community. Terry DeCarlo, Director of the Center in Downtown Orlando said that no one should ever have to go through what the 16 year-old went through.
"Orlando has become a different city in the past year. Nothing like this should happen,” said DeCarlo. We've become a city of love, so to hear something like this is very unnerving."
Hannah Willard, Public Policy Director for Equality Florida echoed that in a statement Friday:
“We have seen a spike in hate violence across our country against mosques, synagogues, LGBTQ community centers, and individuals across the country. No one should ever be targeted because of who they are or who they love, and our hearts go out to the victim as he recovers from the deeply troubling attack.”
The boy’s mother said over the phone Friday that she simply wants to see justice for her son.
That victim was attacked while walking home from school, deputies said. Video of the incident show the group of teens jump him against a fence near Kingsgate Drive. According to deputies the suspects also stole headphones, a cell phone charger, and a hat from the victim.