The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

March 15, 2013

Sunbury police seek arrests in ‘bully club’

By Francis Scarcella
The Daily Item

— SUNBURY — At least two student assaults, both of which were captured on video and uploaded to the Internet, involving Shikellamy students have led city police to pursue arrests in what is being considered the district’s “bully club.”

“There are videos of fights being posted on Facebook and YouTube,” Sunbury Police Chief Steve Mazzeo said. “These incidents have been occurring for quite some time and they have been before, during and after school hours.”

One incident caught on cell-phone video shows a student approach another inside the high school cafeteria and begin punching him in the back of the head more than a dozen times.

“This has got to stop,” said Cpl. Jamie Quinn, the lead investigator. “I will not stop until we have made all the arrests.”

The mother of the student, who wished to remain anonymous for safety reasons, said the school nurse called her after the attack and that moments later the video was posted on Facebook — during school hours.

“Kids were commenting on this while they were in school,” she said. “I went to the police right away. This is the second time this happened to him. He got attacked before.”

District Superintendent Pat Kelley said the district is cooperating with authorities.

“If Sunbury police decide to make arrests, then we are 100 percent behind them,” he said. “We are aware of these incidents and we are doing everything we can to prevent them from occurring.”

Kelley said he spoke with principals in district schools and said they are watching for any activity that might lead to another incident.

“We are keeping a close eye on this,” Kelley said. “The problem we have is some of this occurs off school grounds, but they are still our students.”

Shikellamy participated in an education workshop called “Operation Safe Surf,” which taught teachers how to deal with students and the Internet, Kelley said.

“We don’t allow Facebook in the schools,” Kelley said.

But Facebook can be accessed from cell phones, which is against rules during school hours, Kelley said.

“They are not supposed to have their phones during school hours,” he said.“We are doing everything we can to prevent students from accessing phones during class.”

The mother said her son is now allowed to leave school early because of the incidents.

“I am in fear for him,” she said. “It’s so bad that when he went to the playground, he was late coming home and I was worried that my son’s body was laying somewhere.”

The eighth-grader returned home, but his mother said she has noticed marks on his body.

“He is now scratching himself and I know I have to pin him in the house to make sure he is safe and it is so stressful. He is always worried he is going to get beat up.”

The woman said her family is now looking for a place to live outside the district.

Another incident involved a student who was being chased and beaten near the high school while his friend was restrained.

The video shows a female student stop the fight.

All the alleged participants are minors and range from middle school to high school students.

The number of Facebook messages soared after other students wanted to see the videos, Quinn said.

Another incident involving one of the same victims occurred outside the student’s home, Quinn said.

“A group of them came to the house and when mom came outside, the other kids starting calling her names,” Quinn said.

When the child began defending his mother, students began punching at him while the mother was trying to hold them back, Quinn said.

“It’s mob mentality,” she said.

Police are in contact with Facebook and have been copying comments made by students about the incidents, Quinn said.

“Anyone who sees these comments are to save them to their computers and contact police right away,” she said. “We are trying to gather all the comments and evidence we can get.”

Charges can range from misdemeanors to felonies, including aggravated assault, Quinn said.

“Even if you are the person filming the incidents, you can be charged,” she said. “Anyone involved in this or any event like this, we will not stop until we have made arrests.”

Police said they have been called to Shikellamy at least 100 times in the past calendar year, and 20 times this academic year.

The investigation is ongoing. Anyone with information is asked to contact Quinn at 286-4584.