VERMILION — A Vermilion sophomore was arrested Tuesday, charged with raping middle schoolers.
The 15-year-old boy turned himself in at the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, where he was charged with felony rape and booked before he was taken to the county’s juvenile detention facility, said Erie County Detective Bob Rieger.
The boy also will be charged with five counts of rape by Vermilion police, said Vermilion Detective Dan Shupe.
The boy is accused of raping three girls from Sailorway Middle School in recent weeks and months.
All of the alleged victims were 12 at the time.
The middle school houses students in grades four through seven, and all middle school and high school students ride the buses together.
Some of the alleged incidents took place on school grounds before or after school hours, police said. All of the district’s schools are on one campus. One of the girls told police that she met the boy at various places on the school grounds, including on the track and near the bleachers by the concession stand. Another girl said the incidents happened at her home near the school and the Erie County charge stemmed from an incident at a home in that county.
The city straddles both Lorain and Erie counties, and the school district serves approximately 1,950 students from both counties.
The district was first notified days before the winter break started Dec. 19. A parent called the school after finding incriminating messages on her daughter’s cell phone, said district Superintendent Phil Pempin. Police were notified and immediately began investigating, continuing after school resumed on Jan. 2.
The boy was suspended and is going through the expulsion process, Pempin said.
A letter confirming the removal and pending expulsion of the student soon will go home with students and will be posted on the district’s website. Confidentiality laws prohibit the district from releasing many details, but in the letter Pempin confirms that a high school student has been charged with several counts of sexual assault and emphasizes that school safety is the district’s priority.
“We have almost 80 acres of campus here and we have our eyes and ears open for almost everything but we can’t be every single place every single time,” he said. “We have cameras in strategic places and adults in strategic places, we have teachers that intercept kids as they come off buses, but sometimes students will make plans and find areas of our campus that are unfortunately not supervised.”
The boy already was on probation from a charge dating back to 2016, although the details of that arrest were unclear, Rieger said. The boy’s arrest at the Erie County Sheriff’s Office on Tuesday was arranged between the boy’s custodial grandparent and the probation officer, he said.
In Ohio, children younger than 13 cannot consent to sexual activity. Ohio law does not differentiate between juvenile or adult charges of rape, but the court system can decide at which level a defendant will be charged.
“When things like this happen, we look at what we do have in place, but we still have to be mindful all the time how can we improve and do even better than what we are doing,” Pempin said. “Unfortunately our kids are coming to us with more and more needs and exposed to more and more things that can influence them. Obviously the No. 1 concern of ours is the safety of our students. We’re taking this very seriously and moving forward with whatever we have to do.”
The district worked with police by sharing information culled from school-issued devices, Pempin said.
In November, the district became only the second in the state to ask voters for a levy to specifically fund safety and security measures. The vote passed by a tiny margin — only six votes on the Lorain County side — and the new money will provide for another school resource officer and a mental health professional to be added to staff, as well as boosted security measures.
Pempin’s letter acknowledges that “a story such as this will be the subject of rumor and gossip,” but goes on to remind parents that “this is an extremely sensitive situation.” Students who feel unsafe or are aware of situations that are unsafe should tell a teacher, an administrator, text it anonymously or call the “SaferOH” tip line at (844) 723-3764.