Mayor Michelle Wu said Friday that the city plans to use a variety of mechanisms to ensure that a group of children allegedly responsible for recent attacks in Boston Common, Downtown Crossing, and a McDonald’s restaurant in Roxbury, some of whom are as young as 11 years old, get the support they need to ensure the string of encounters does not continue.
“There’s a plan in place to work with families, to work through our public safety agencies through our schools, through our youth and city and state agencies, and so we’re really looking to wrap around and make sure these young people get the supports that they need,” Wu told reporters at a Friday morning press conference. “These are children who need support and services, and they’re connected to adults who also need to have some accountability.”
The most recent assault occurred around 6:35 p.m. Wednesday on Boston Common, when two Suffolk University students saw a group of about five kids accost a young woman who was walking through the Common with her child. The Suffolk students told the children to behave better and leave the woman alone. It was then that a young girl allegedly punched one of the Suffolk students in the face, knocking her glasses to the ground, and leaving her with visible red marks, Boston police wrote in a report provided to the Globe.
The young girl is “well known” to police for allegedly “terrorizing unsuspecting citizens of Downtown Boston,” the report said. Due to the girl’s age, she can not be formally charged for any of the alleged assaults, according to police.
A Suffolk law student, who asked the Globe not to use her name, said she witnessed the attack Wednesday evening while walking through the Common with a friend. The group of kids allegedly egged on the victims asking “are you gonna do anything about it?” after the Suffolk students told them to stop harassing the woman walking with her son.
But, she said, the victims then began antagonizing the children. “You shouldn’t be doing that. ... You’re gonna be in jail within the next year anyways,” one of the students allegedly told the group of kids.
From there, the encounter escalated, with one of the kids shoving a victim from behind and grabbing her backpack. Then, she said, the young girl got in the victim’s face, causing her glasses to fall off.
The kids became apologetic once the victims threatened to call the police, she said.
The student said she believes the assault was a result of “a bunch of kids messing around,” and the group shouldn’t be held to the same standard as adults.
“I don’t think young kids realize the consequences of their actions,” she said. “Again, it wasn’t OK. But it doesn’t rise to the level ... I don’t think they should be they should go to jail for that.”
Wu said the city intends to look at the root causes of the behavior, and aims to increase the mental health care available at schools across the city.
“There’s really a second epidemic that’s coming out of this pandemic, which is related to mental health,” she said. “There’s an overwhelming need, as we’ve heard from school nurses throughout the city, for us to provide those mental health supports and make sure that there’s programming.”
City Council President Ed Flynn echoed Wu’s call for expanded mental health services, and said the city will work to “provide a safe neighborhood for all.”
“It is all the more critical now that our children and young adults have access to ongoing social services, mental health counseling, and behavioral health support systems,” he said in a statement. “Our Boston Public Schools and the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families must continue to work together to ensure our children are safe and have the care and services they need.”
Boston Public Schools issued a statement to the Globe saying, “Any incident of violence within the City of Boston is troubling, even outside of school properties. Any incidents that involve BPS students is a top priority for the appropriate BPS staff.”
The district’s office of safety services has been in touch with the schools that the children attend and are working with staff to “create support plans for all students,” the statement said.
Suffolk District Attorney Kevin Hayden said in a statement Friday afternoon that his office is “well aware” of the children allegedly involved in the assaults, which he characterized as “the ongoing public safety threat occurring in the Downtown Crossing area.”
“The primary responsibility for preventing these attacks ... falls on city, state, and community agencies. We urge those agencies to take every possible measure to intervene with the children involved,” he said.
Hayden said complaints have been issued against the juveniles older than 13 who have been identified in connection to the attacks, and his office is working with Boston police to “execute” those complaints.
“We stand ready to work with all community and government partners to address this urgent issue,” Hayden said.
Suffolk students, who were informed by campus police of the assault on Thursday night, said they weren’t too rattled by the news, but were unnerved by something they saw as a feature of city life hitting so close to home.
“It’s kind of the every day of living here,” said Riley Carpenter, of Nashville, a first-year student at the university, in an interview outside a dorm building on Court Street Friday morning.
Still, hearing news of Suffolk students becoming victims of assault was jarring. “I’ve heard stories of people getting attacked but they were so far removed I didn’t think it would happen,” she said.
The prior encounters allegedly involving the children in Downtown Crossing and Roxbury occurred on April 18 and April 26, respectively, the Globe reported. In Downtown Crossing, the group allegedly left a woman with a large bump over her eye that required treatment at a local hospital. The Roxbury encounter occurred at a McDonald’s when the children allegedly threw a drink at an employee during an argument, and one of the male members of the group later used a metal cane to swing at lights in the restaurant.
According to police, an 11-year-old girl participated in all three encounters and is the child who allegedly punched the Suffolk University student Wednesday night. A 13-year-old boy also participated in all three encounters, police said.
Fariba Sarwary, an international student from Afghanistan, said she was frightened by the recent assaults.
“I was scared the first time I heard,” she said. “It made me not go outside anywhere, especially at night.”
Wu said the city has plans in place to ensure the safety of the areas where encounters have occurred, including increased access, visibility, and availability of police officers.
John R. Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this report.