A series of disturbing sexual assault allegations have rocked a school community in eastern Vermont.
Five female students at Thetford Academy told investigators in Orange County that a fellow student forced them into sexual contact, adding that he tended to get violent if they refused.
According to police paperwork, the teens told investigators 16-year-old classmate Connor Tatro sexually assaulted them at various points over the last year and a half.
The students said the alleged assaults took place in out-of-the-way places on the campus of the historic independent school, which provides the area's public education.
According to police paperwork filed with the Vermont Superior Court criminal division in Orange County, the girls told investigators their fellow student was extremely physically aggressive, and would even choke the girls into submission.
The paperwork also revealed that police are investigating the role sexting may have played: if a threat from possessing possibly embarrassing pictures was a way the boy might have intimidated his alleged victims into unwanted sexual contact.
Despite his young age, Tatro was criminally charged as an adult on July 25.
The suspect pleaded not guilty to seven felony charges that could bring a maximum sentence of life in prison, if he is convicted.
Police paperwork showed when the girls learned how similar their stories were, they decided to come forward together. One of them told an officer she "doesn't want [Tatro] to do it to other people.”
Tatro’s attorney, Catherine Dux, told necn she believes the claims against her client were exaggerated and intensified by social media use, which she described as the modern-day “rumor mill.”
Dux said she plans a vigorous defense, starting with a review of police investigative approaches.
“No rushing to judgment,” Dux said, urging the public to wait until the case works itself out to form opinions about it. “The allegations are simply that—they’re just allegations. Everyone is, in fact, presumed innocent.”
Tatro was released to the custody of his mother, under strict conditions which included that he stay away from the five juvenile girls involved in the case.
Thetford Academy's head of school, William Bugg, sent necn the following statement:
These allegations are deeply disturbing and incredibly disheartening, as they do not reflect the values that we work so hard to instill in our students here at Thetford Academy. Due to the nature of the allegations, the fact that this remains an ongoing investigation, and the fact that the students involved are all minors, I am limited in what I can say about the matter.
We consulted with the police when we were first notified there was a cause for concern, and we reported all alleged incidents to [The Vermont Department for Children & Families] in accordance with our policies and mandatory reporting obligations.
We review mandated reporter laws with faculty and staff every year. In addition, there are certain steps that we take at the beginning of each school year and throughout the year to make sure our community is safe and secure. These steps include a careful examination of all policies and procedures on campus.
“It's really important to support the survivors in times like these,” said Auburn Watersong of the Vermont Network Against Domestic & Sexual Violence. “Especially these youth: how brave it was for them to come forward. Oftentimes in cases like these, it's tempting to focus on the perpetrator and we need to remember these victims, in particular."
Survivors of sexual violence in Vermont can get support 24/7 through this hotline: 1-800-489-7273.