Hazing News

Friday Night Frights: Texas football hazing in a small town seems to have no consequences

Here is the link to the Daily Beast

Excerpt below to article by Olivia Messer

LA VERNIA, Texas— [Jennifer’s son had] heard a rumor. Something about an initiation to the team. It involved sodomy.

Jennifer was horrified but skeptical that the—admittedly outrageous—rumor was worth worrying about.

“I looked at him, I was like, ‘You’re lying, that’s not true. That’s a lie,’” she protested, crying as she remembers it now. “We trusted that the coaches were watching them, and, you know, taking care of them.”

Police later told Jennifer that witnesses say her son was raped with a broomstick. He has not corroborated those accounts.

In February of this year, a victim went to La Vernia police with claims of sexual assault by the town’s athletes. As the investigation unfolded, police found at least nine more victims of alleged abuse—spanning a period of at least three years—by football, baseball, and basketball stars.

The varsity players were accused of sodomizing their younger teammates with various instruments, including baseball bats and carbon-dioxide tanks. A total of 13 students so far—six of them adults—have been arrested and charged with either sexual assault or sexual assault of a child.

All of the suspects who have released public statements or spoken through attorneys have denied their involvement in the alleged crimes. None of them have been indicted.

One warm evening in May, Jennifer and Michelle* sat on a back porch in La Vernia, 30 miles southeast of San Antonio, recounting the scandal. They describe themselves as “sports moms” and say their families customarily attend one of the big churches in town. They’ve both lived in the area since before the H-E-B moved in—the typical dividing line that separates longtime residents from outsiders.

“We can guarantee we’ll always be at those football games on Friday nights because our sons play,” said Michelle. “You don’t really see my face around the school much unless somebody’s messing with one of my boys.”

The mothers gush while describing their sons as “above-average athletes,” goofy and popular.

“They like to showboat and stuff, but, you know, they’re teenage boys, and they’re already pre-NFL,” glowed Michelle.

But even as the moms rooted for the La Vernia Bears at Friday-night games, they were unaware their sons were allegedly being raped by their teammates.

Both women shook their heads, as the sun set over the green farm horizon. “We all thought we were living in an awesome little community, you know?”

Then, one day in March, Michelle got a call from the La Vernia Police Department.

Five minutes later, she was sitting in the police station.

“‘I’m not going to sugarcoat it,’” an officer told her, as he allegedly detailed the various items used: deodorant bottles, soda bottles, pipes, and baseball bats.

“What did they use on my son?” she asked, sobbing angrily.

“‘I’d rather not tell you,’” he responded. “‘You don’t want to know.’”

‘Do Not Judge Unless You’re Without Sin’

The 13 suspects facing criminal charges include Colton Weidner, Christian “Brock” Roberts, and John Rutkowski, who are all 18 and members of the school’s basketball team. According to arrest affidavits, Weidner, Rutkowski, and an unnamed juvenile held down a struggling 15-year-old while Roberts raped him with a flashlight.

Also charged were 17-year-old Alejandro Ibarra, 17-year-old Robert Olivarez Jr., and 18-year-old Dustin Norman. They stand accused of holding down a 16-year-old boy on a bed while sodomizing him with the threaded end of a carbon-dioxide tank, according to arrest affidavits.

“The victim struggled to stop the assault, but was overpowered by the four suspects and pinned down where he could not move,” La Vernia Police Sgt. Donald Keil wrote in an affidavit.

Around the time of his arrest, Ibarra took to Facebook to defend himself and his teammates.

On a local reporter’s Facebook post, Ibarra wrote of Olivarez and Norman: “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.”

Since the arrests, all 13 boys are walking free on bail until the investigation makes its way into a courthouse. “What’s bugging me is that these perpetrators are still running around La Vernia,” groaned Michelle. She’d waited outside the school to watch on the day her son’s alleged tormentors were hauled out of class and arrested.

“They’re still out and about and they’re posting pictures on Instagram and Facebook and having a good old time while they’re out on bond or whatever.”

Several of the accused seniors even joined in on the prom festivities this past spring, despite being barred from the actual dance. They dressed up, took pictures together, went to a group dinner, and rode in the limo with their friends, according to photos viewed by The Daily Beast.

“They took pictures and went out to dinner for a night on the town and all that,” Michelle said. “It’s like their parents are rewarding them. If that was my kid who had just sexually assaulted another child, he would not be going to prom.”

By Hank Nuwer

Journalist Hank Nuwer is the Alaska author of Hazing: Destroying Young Lives; Broken Pledges: The Deadly Rite of Hazing, High School Hazing, Wrongs of Passage and The Hazing Reader. In April of 2024, the Alaska Press Club awarded him first place in the Best Columnist division and Best Humorist, second place.

He has written articles or columns on hazing for the Sunday Times of India, Toronto Globe & Mail, Harper's Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, The Chronicle of Higher Education and the New York Times Sunday Magazine. His current book is Hazing: Destroying Young Lives from Indiana University Press. He is married to Malgorzata Wroblewska Nuwer of Warsaw, Poland and Fairbanks, Alaska. Nuwer is a former columnist for the Greenville (Ohio)Early Bird and former managing editor of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in Alaska.
Nuwer was named the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists columnist of the year in 2021 for his “After Darke” column in the Early Bird. He also won third place for the column in 2022 from the Indiana chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. He and his wife Gosia, recently of Union City, Ind., have owned 20 acres in Alaska for many years. “The move is a sort-of coming home for us,” said Nuwer. As a journalist, he’s written about the Alaskan Iditarod sled-dog race and other Alaska topics. Read his musings in his blog at Real Alaska Daily-- and in his weekly column "Far from Randolph" in the Winchester Star-Gazette of Randolph County, Indiana.

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