Somerville Mayor Joseph A. Curtatone said Sunday he was “shocked, horrified, and saddened,” upon learning last Tuesday that three Somerville High School students would be charged with sexually assaulting underclassman members of the school’s junior varsity boys’ soccer team — an attack Curtatone said occurred just “yards, if not feet away” from adult coaches at a school-organized retreat he attended.
Curtatone acknowledged that many questions remain about how the alleged crimes occurred and promised a thorough investigation.
“We’re all shaking our heads,” he said. “We’re asking ourselves, how did this happen? What broke down? What should have been done?”
The alleged attack occurred at Camp Lenox in Otis, where members of the high school’s soccer and football teams attended an annual weekend team-building retreat. Berkshire County prosecutors have said 17-year-old Galileo Mondol and two 16-year-olds, who were not named because they are juveniles, entered a freshman cabin and assaulted three victims.
Mondol has been charged with one count of aggravated rape of a child under the age of 16, two counts of assault with intent to rape a child under 16, one count of indecent assault and battery, three counts of assault and battery, and three counts of witness intimidation. The two 16-year-olds will be arraigned on similar charges in juvenile court.
Reached by phone, Mondol’s father referred a request for comment to defense attorney William Korman, who has emphatically denied the charges.
Korman told the Globe on Friday, “We are pleading not guilty Tuesday because he is not guilty.”
Curtatone, who was at the retreat as a volunteer football coach, said the alleged sexual assaults took place in a cabin during a transition period between daytime activities, and that they happened as coaches were on the other side of the door.
“It must have happened extremely fast,” Curtatone said in an interview. “We really don’t have down time.”
Somerville’s director of communications, Denise Taylor, said the three defendants were being held on bail and were expected to be arraigned in a Berkshire County courtroom early this week.
Meanwhile, the three victims of the attack have resumed practicing with the soccer team, whose members have embraced and supported them, Curtatone said.
“The spirit and character of the victims has inspired us,” he said. “The other students are obviously shocked. There’s a sense of betrayal. They’re saying, ‘This is not who we are.’ ”
The football team has been holding similar retreats at different camps for the past 15 years, Curtatone said, and has been joined in recent years by the school’s soccer teams. During that time, no similar attacks were reported, he said.
Tony Pierantozzi, superintendent of the Somerville public schools, expressed deep remorse for the alleged attacks.
“I feel a sense of sadness and a sense that, as the superintendent responsible for all the students in Somerville High School, I’ve let the students down and the parents down,” Pierantozzi said, his voice shaking, in a phone interview Sunday. “When parents send kids to our programs, they expect them to be safe and healthy and to come back in great condition and great shape, better than the last time they saw them.”
Pierantozzi said the high school is willing to make any changes recommended by the investigation, but he also said he did not want to punish other students for the alleged crimes by cancelling planned trips and activities.
“We’re pretty committed not to have a double victimization here, where the students who have handled their responsibilities in mature, responsible ways are somehow punished,” he said. “We just don’t think that’s helpful.”
School officials were made aware of the alleged attacks last Tuesday afternoon, Pierantozzi said, when an unidentified adult approached an assistant coach.
“I was disturbed at every level,” he said, describing his reaction to the report.
District officials huddled Tuesday afternoon and, after a preliminary investigation, decided the allegations were plausible, Pierantozzi said. School officials then alerted authorities.
“This was never perceived to be just a, ‘boys-will-be-boys’ incident,” Pierantozzi said. “We’re very much aware of our responsibilities.”
Wednesday night, Curtatone and city school officials held a meeting with student athletes on the boys soccer team and their parents, during which Pierantozzi said he personally apologized to the families.
Similar meetings with the girls soccer team and the football team took place Thursday.
Pierantozzi said parents at the meetings were “extremely upset, as they should be.”
But he promised that students returning to the high school for the beginning of the school year Wednesday would be safe.
“No parent should worry about their child’s health or safety because of this incident,” he said. “We will all be very, very prepared to be very vigilant, because this has heightened our sense of awareness of the potential for harm.”
Pierantozzi also said that the alleged assaults were not a symptom of a broader hazing problem at Somerville High School, adding that student athletes and their parents must sign an antihazing pledge each year, and that the school was one of the first in the state to implement antibullying programs.
“I assure you, this was not systemic,” he said. “I believe it’s isolated. . . . This is definitely contrary to the culture of our school district.”
Richard Moss, the director of Camp Lenox, stressed in an e-mail that the Somerville school system had rented the camp’s grounds and facilities, and Somerville school employees and volunteers were solely responsible for supervising students.
Pierantozzi confirmed that arrangement and said that a total of 20 adults, including coaches, volunteers, and a trainer, were responsible for supervising 165 students on the trip.
Pierantozzi said he and other school officials were surprised by the alleged attacks, and are now worried that similar attacks could have occurred in the past and gone unreported.
To that end, school officials are distributing police contact information to students and encouraging them to come forward, he said.
With the school year set to start this week, staff at the high school are focused on providing support and resources to the victims, Pierantozzi said. He also praised students for their response to the alleged attacks.
“They have come together and they are supporting each other. It’s been rewarding to see that,” Pierantozzi said. “I only wish it was totally unnecessary and nothing had happened.”