La Vernia Residents Shaken By Continuing Investigation Of Sexual Assault Allegations

The announcement that the Texas Rangers will investigate allegations of sexual assaults by student athletes has generated strong feelings in the small south Texas community.

By Joey Palacios & Rhonda FanningApril 4, 2017 12:18 pm, , ,

The Texas Rangers have taken over the investigation of alleged sexual assaults by student athletes in La Vernia, southeast of San Antonio. Ten students have been arrested and charged in connection with the hazing. Texas Public Radio’s Joey Palacios reports that Monday night the superintendent addressed the community. Following the story, Texas Standard speaks with Palacios about what the community is feeling after the meeting.

In the high school cafeteria, La Vernia ISD Superintendent Jose Moreno called the allegations of sexual assault by varsity athletes a “tragedy.” He told the crowd of about 100 community members and parents the horrific allegations will not define the community.

“We’ll be defined by the commitment to excellence that we have for our students and our community,” Moreno said. “We will be defined by the generations of families born and raised here in La Vernia. We will be defined on how we come together as a community to continue moving forward. We’re all hurt and that’s obvious and that’s why we’re all here this evening.”

Beyond that Moreno disclosed few details about the investigation and the school district’s response. He would not say whether any adults in the district knew of the hazing or what the district is specifically doing to help traumatized students and make changes in the athletic programs.

What is known is that a person first reported the possible assaults to school officials on Feb. 17, and the district then notified local law enforcement. The assaults have reportedly occurred over a three-year period. Police say at least 10 possible victims have come forward.

At the Monday night meeting only one parent, Paula Thompson, spoke openly to the school board.

“I hope the victims are getting counseling,” she said. “They also need to know how brave and courageous they are to come forward. These boys are the type others should look up to.”

Moreno said the 10 suspects are no longer attending classes at the high school. It’s unclear whether authorities will make further arrests.

One parent Palacios spoke to said he was not assured by Jose Moreno’s address.

“He said that the superintendent wouldn’t even mention sexual assault,” Palacios says. “[The superintendent] kept calling it a ‘tragedy’ or a ‘travesty.’ That parent told me that he actually hadn’t heard anything from the school district at all up until earlier this month. That the first things that they heard actually came from the media.”

The superintendent said at the meeting that adults involved in the athletic program didn’t know about the hazing. The current athletic director is a recent hire, and Moreno wouldn’t confirm if the previous athletic director had any knowledge about what the students are calling a “ritual.”

“He said that out of respect for the investigation that he was going to reserve comment,” Palacios says.

The police department and school district will not release any other information, Palacios says, and the Texas Rangers have yet to give any findings to the public.

Palacios says many parents at the meeting refused to talk to him, but one of the few parents who agreed to be interviewed asked why the media was giving attention to La Vernia now.

“[She said] why are y’all focusing on something so negative when we have so many good things going on in the community,” Palacios says. “This is something that small town of La Vernia isn’t used to getting national press attention for – something so negative. It’s making them uncomfortable.”

That same parent said now, when her kids go off to sporting events in other communities, they’re being made fun of.

“The kids are made fun of because they’re wearing La Vernia jerseys,” Palacios says. “They feel – at least from what she told me – feel ashamed to go out on the field because they’re going to be pointed at or talked about, but with whispers and murmurs about what is happening in their community right now.”

Written by Beth Cortez-Neavel.