SARATOGA (CBS / AP / BCN) — Family members of a 15-year-old Saratoga girl who killed herself after photos of a sexual assault surfaced online said on Friday they suspect the attackers tried to destroy evidence.
Three 16-year-old boys were arrested on Thursday on suspicion of sexual battery in last fall’s assault of Audrie Pott while she was passed out at a party.
Members of Audrie Pott’s family posted a message Friday on a Facebook page honoring the girl, saying that the male teens who allegedly attacked her in early September tried to cover up their actions.
“We suspect that the boys who we believe are responsible for Audrie’s death took deliberate steps to destroy evidence and interfere with the police investigation,” the family wrote.
“If students have information about this crime, if they saw pictures or know anything that will assist in bringing these young men to justice, please come forward,” they wrote.
The Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office, which is investigating the case, could not be immediately reached for comment on the accusations.
Family’s attorney Robert Allard said the arrests “reopened a wound” and that the family has gone into seclusion.
The family claim was posted on a Facebook page for a foundation set up in the girl’s name.
It did not provide further details on what type of evidence might have been targeted by the suspects. However, it asked any students with information to come forward.
The boys were arrested at high schools in Saratoga and Gilroy on suspicion of sexual battery. Authorities have not released exactly what happened.
Pott’s family said she was assaulted while unconscious, and that people posted the photos online. Their daughter killed herself eight days after the crime.
Allard said Audrie had been drinking at a sleepover at a friend’s house, passed out and “woke up to the worst nightmare imaginable.” She knew she had been assaulted, he said.
She soon found an abundance of material online about that night, including a picture.
“We are talking about a systematic distributing of a photo involving an intimate body part of hers,” Allard said. He said distributing the photo was “equally insidious as the assault.”
She also discovered that her attackers were three boys she considered friends — young men in whom she had confided, the lawyer said.
On Facebook, Audrie said the whole school knew what happened, and she complained that her life was ruined — “worst day ever,” Allard said.
Her parents did not learn about the assault until after her death, when Audrie’s friends approached them, Allard said.
Ed Vasquez, a spokesman for Allard, said the lawyer’s private investigators interviewed a person who stood by in the room and witnessed the alleged sexual assault by the three teens on Audrie.
Other kids viewed at least one photo of the alleged attack taken by a cellphone and widely circulated, the news of which led to Audrie’s suicide by hanging days later, Vasquez said.
“They knew what had happened and no one came forward,” he said.
The case is currently in juvenile court and by state law the District Attorney’s office is prohibited from commenting on it, Deputy District Attorney Jaron Shipp said.
But it remains possible that the suspects will be tried as adults.
State law automatically permits juveniles aged 16 to 17 to be tried as adults in cases of murder and violent sexual assaults, Assistant District Attorney Marc Buller said.
Allard has said the family, which intends to file suit against up to 10 students and parents, wants the three criminal suspects tried as adults.
Los Gatos-Saratoga Union High School District Superintendent Bob Mistele said Friday the school will work to discourage cyberbullying and maintain a positive climate of respect.
Mistele said the district’s sympathies go out to all of the families affected by this “tragic situation.”
The Pott family was not alone in wrestling with such circumstances.
In Canada, the cousin of a young woman who committed suicide after an alleged assault and months of bullying issued an emotional appeal to people Thursday not to use violence to avenge her death.
Angella Parsons stood before a somber crowd of about 300 people in a Halifax park to reflect on the short life of 17-year-old Rehtaeh Parsons.
The gathering came after Rehtaeh’s family said she hanged herself last week and was taken off life-support Sunday.
The cases bear similarity to one in Steubenville, Ohio where two high school football players were recently convicted in the rape of a drunken 16-year-old girl, an incident recorded on cellphones by students and gossiped about online. A photograph was taken of the girl being carried by her ankles and wrists generated international outrage after it was published online.
The suspects in the Saratoga case were booked into juvenile hall. Their names were not released.
The news surprised residents of the town.
“People in this town are involved, parents advocate for their kids to get the best education, the best teachers, the best sports,” said Jamie Perez, who was walking her baby and her dog on Friday past a coffee shop.
Perez graduated from the local school system, which has one of the top high schools in the state.
Family videos of Audrie show a bright, cheerful girl standing on a cantering horse, boogie boarding at the beach, playing her violin and singing.
Interviewed for her high school newspaper Saratoga Falcon when she started as a freshman in 2011, Audrie was optimistic and said she was looking forward to playing on the soccer team.
“I’m really excited to meet new people; there are a lot more people in high school than in middle school,” she said. “However, I’m not looking forward to all the extra homework. Another thing I’m really excited about is that in high school, the dances seem so much more fun.”
Allard said the girl’s family wants action taken against those who passed the photo around.
“If anybody was involved in the ruthless forwarding of this information involving an intimate body part of her, we want to make sure they’re held accountable,” he said.
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