A family in Woburn, Massachusetts, wants to see justice served when it comes to the teenagers accused of assaulting their son in a high school locker room last fall. After months of waiting, the case is expected to be heard in juvenile court next month.
It’s hard to watch but Kevin Couceles says cellphone video shared on social media shows his son being assaulted in the locker room of Woburn Memorial High School after a football game last September.
Several students, including football players in uniform, are seen pouring water on him and throwing water bottles. Couceles says a student pulled down his sons pants and groped his genitals. The freshman football player is seen pulling up his pants in the video. The moments before were obstructed from view by the crowd gathered around.
“I want to cry every time I see that. I wasn’t there to protect my son," Couceles shared. "Very heartbroken.”
Woburn Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Matthew Crowley sent a letter to the community on Tuesday to provide an update on the "troubling situation involving the WMHS athletics program that has been covered in the news recently.
In his letter, Crowley said the incident that occurred this past September involved student athletes and included allegations of physical and sexual abuse of a student by their teammates.
"I understand that there have been strong reactions to this situation and appreciate there is a deep desire for as much information as possible regarding the incident and the school district’s response," Crowley wrote. "I share in the collective shock and outrage regarding this incident."
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The Couceles family reported the assault to police in October. That week, the Woburn Police Department and Middlesex District Attorney announced they were investigating the incident. Because the investigation involves minors, both the Woburn Police Department and the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office told NBC10 Boston they cannot provide information about the case.
Crowley said in his letter Tuesday that the district has cooperated fully with the law enforcement investigation.
"As these matters concern allegations involving minors, there was and remains much we cannot say publicly about this situation," Crowley said.
Peter Hahn, the attorney representing the Couceles family, said five high school students are facing charges for assault and battery for the September incident. One has an additional "indecent assault and battery" charge. Two more students face charges for subsequent harassment in the weeks after the assault in the locker room.
“He was attacked in the bathroom. He was attacked in his Spanish class. He was called a snitch. He was harassed by a number of different students,” said Hahn. “And at some point, he had to leave the school for his safety. His parents made that decision to withdraw him from the school because it was no longer safe for him to be there. And this has very negatively impacted both Jonathan and his parents, the whole family.”
While charges are pending for some students, Couceles says the coaches and school leadership should be held accountable, too.
“There should be a lot more charges," he said. "The school official, superintendent, the principal, vice principal, coaches they all should [face] consequences.”
Hahn said he provided notice to the city and school district about their intent to sue.
The superintendent said in his letter Tuesday that Woburn Public Schools has retained outside private counsel -- the law firm of Butters Brazilian LLP and Attorney Patrick Hanley -- to conduct a comprehensive Title IX investigation, which remains ongoing.
At the conclusion of the Title IX investigation, a second investigation, in the form of an administrative review and policy analysis will be conducted by a second outside agency, a firm headed by former Massachusetts Secretary of Public Safety and Security Daniel Bennett, Former State Police Colonel Kerry Gilpin and Attorney John Benzan.
“I wish to be unequivocal in the fact that I join every member of the WPS administration in condemning physical and sexual violence in all forms," Crowley said. "We are committed to a thorough, multifaceted fact finding operation, and we pledge to be forthcoming regarding the results of those investigations and to enact their findings and recommendations.”
"As these investigations remain active and ongoing, we will continue to allow that process to unfold," he added. "I urge patience as we are all eager to view the results, myself included."
Crowley said the school district consulted with the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association (MIAA) and had a consultant from the Anti-Hazing collaborative work with all of their winter sports coaches. Moving forward, he said all of the district’s coaches will be required to undertake extensive supplemental training.
"As your superintendent I promise that the standards we will set for ourselves, our sports programs and how we are to treat one another will be of paramount importance as we continue to move through this process and learn all the facts and circumstances," Crowley wrote.
“Incidents like these have no place in our community,” the superintendent added.
Couceles said his wife decided to pull their son out of the Woburn school for his safety in December.
“It hurts him to this day. He hasn’t left his room, he has barely eaten," Couceles said of his son. "He just wants to be by himself all the time. It took a big toll on him, very big toll.”
Crowley said they have reached out to the Couceles family.
"As school leaders, we acknowledge and have offered support to the student and family that had the strength to come forward to report this deeply troubling matter," the superintendent wrote.
Hahn said a hearing scheduled for Tuesday in Lowell Juvenile Court was moved to March.