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School, police investigating ‘disturbing’ physical altercation inside restroom at Wilmington High School

A view of Wilmington High from a gazebo on the town common pictured here.Joanne Rathe

WILMINGTON — Police expect to file criminal charges in connection with a “disturbing” altercation inside a Wilmington High School boys bathroom Tuesday in which youths picked up a student and tried to place his head in a toilet, law enforcement and school officials said Friday.

Police Chief Joseph Desmond said school officials told police Tuesday that cellphone video of the incident had surfaced online.

The video, Desmond said, shows a group of students “picking up another student, bringing him into a stall, and attempting to put his head into a toilet. … It’s pretty disturbing. We obviously want to send a message that that kind of behavior is just not acceptable.”

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Police are “pretty confident that we will be charging something at some point, probably next week some time,” said Desmond, adding there were “at least 10 to 15 kids in that bathroom.”

Desmond said police are looking into “all aspects” of the case that could possibly lead to charges such as assault, or for infractions related to hazing or bullying.

Desmond said investigators have no indication “at this point” that racial animus motivated the assailants.

“We will certainly look at that,” Desmond said.

Wilmington is the latest public school district to confront disturbing allegations of student violence and bullying.

On Thursday, a female student at Haverhill High School was arrested after a fight with another student at lunchtime. A transgender student from North Attleborough High School was beaten and taunted in February after a basketball game and a student at Foxborough High School was arrested, officials said.

A series of fights at Lawrence High School last fall prompted the community to hold a demonstration to denounce the violence. Danvers and Woburn high schools have separately confronted allegations of hazing and assault on student athletes.

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Wilmington officials vow to take swift action against the alleged bathroom incident.

In a letter to the Wilmington school community on Wednesday, School Superintendent Glenn Brand confirmed an investigation is underway into “a serious and disturbing physical altercation that occurred in one of the boys’ bathrooms yesterday.”

Brand said school officials will cooperate with law enforcement.

“I am truly appalled by the actions of these students which are unacceptable and do not represent the core values of this educational community,” Brand wrote.

He said most students do the right thing.

Brand he also alluded to prior troubles among students.

“This incident comes in the wake of a number of other concerns recently involving troubling student behavior,” Brand wrote. “Everyone has an obligation to help foster the type of school environments that our students deserve, including our staff, families and, most importantly, our students themselves.”

Brand’s office released a separate statement Friday in response to a Globe inquiry.

“Earlier this week there was a physical altercation that occurred in one of the boys’ bathrooms at the Wilmington High School,” Brand said in Friday’s statement. “As a parent, let alone an educator, I am appalled that some of our students decided to act the way that they did. But what is equally disturbing is the fact that other students were present and did nothing to stop the incident, and in fact recorded the altercation.”

Brand said a review of the case remains active.

“I assure you that all students who are found culpable will be held fully accountable and appropriate disciplinary and legal action will be taken,” he said. “Meanwhile, conversations with the high school administration and student class officers are already underway, and we are in the process of scheduling bystander training that will be mandatory for all students.”

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He also said a series of “conversations” will be held to address the climate in the schools.

“We will also hold a series of community conversations for our students, staff, and parents/guardians to ensure that we all continue to work toward our shared goal of providing a safe and supportive environment in our schools,” Brand said.

Wilmington High Principal Linda Peters didn’t immediately return an e-mail seeking comment.

Wilmington Town Manager Jeffrey M. Hull expressed concern for the trauma experienced by the student who was targeted.

“This is clearly an unfortunate circumstance, and my heart goes out to the student and the family,” Hull said in an interview Friday evening. “I just hope the best for the student and the family and that they’re able to work through this. … This act does not represent who Wilmington is as a community.”

Outside the school on Friday afternoon, parents in cars lined up along the street near the baseball field to pick up their children, as students walked out to meet them, headed to practice, or climbed into their own cars.

“It’s kind of upsetting that people are like this now,” said Luke Cardin, a 15-year-old sophomore. “Because you hear about it in movies or books, but you never really think people are actually going to do that.”

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Jym Bagtaz, 46, said he’d heard about the incident from his son, a freshman.

“It saddens me for the family of the student,” he said. “It’s something that should never happen, and when it does, it sort of rocks you to the core.”

Bagtaz said he hasn’t heard of any safety problems at the school. But he said that if it were his child, he’d want to see proper action taken.

“As a parent, if it was … my child that was the one being abused, I would definitely want to see those people involved brought to justice,” he said.

Correspondent Jeremy C. Fox contributed reporting.






Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe. Matt Yan can be reached at matt.yan@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @matt_yan12.