The screaming cut through the laughter as a group of teenagers attacked the 15-year-old girl.
They were all walking through an alley in the South Side of Chicago when, without warning, one of the girls wound up a punch and hit the 15-year-old in the back. Startled, she wailed and clung to an electrical box, flailing her arms as two of her peers continued to throw punches. Eventually, she was surrounded by five girls, plus a boy who joined the attack for a moment to take a swing of his own. Others stood by laughing. By the end of the 42-second beating, she was on the ground in tears.
It was all captured on video in broad daylight - and shared on social media, horrifying Chicago residents. People identifying themselves as the girl's friends and family on social media said she had a mental disability and had gone missing, prompting a citywide search. Authorities said she was missing for five days before her family contacted police.
The girl was found quickly after the video went viral, but on Wednesday, police said there was more to the story: The girl reported that she was sexually assaulted, Chicago Police Officer Jose Jara said during a news conference.
Jara said that it appears the girls invited the 15-year-old to go "out" with them before she went missing, although those circumstances remain unclear.
"After being found by a concerned citizen and her father, the victim was discovered to be a victim of some sick and disgusting crimes," Jara said. He added: "It's very concerning and disgusting that the victim's so-called friends would eventually be the offenders in these incidents."
The disturbing case unfolded before millions of viewers on the Internet, putting social media's worst and most powerful effects on display: first, a teenager's decision to record a cruel beating apparently for entertainment - and then a viral campaign for justice.
"These girls jumped my friend . . . who has a mental disability that has been progressing since the passing of her mother," a friend named Tyla wrote on Monday, sharing the video that she found on social media. "I know this won't blow up since I'm a small account but please, share and rt! I want justice for my friend, she didn't deserve any of this."
It blew up. As of early Thursday morning, the video of the beating had been viewed nearly 6 million times. Community activists who saw the video got involved, embarking on a door-to-door campaign in the neighborhood to search for the girl. Classmates and friends were frantic, posting messages of support and contacting schoolteachers and others.
"You aren't texting any of us back but if you so happen to see this LET US KNOW YOUR OKAY," one classmate wrote, posting a class photo at Muchin College Prep appearing to including the missing girl. "We love you."
"These young perpetrators thought it was funny. They thought it was cute," community activist Stringer Harris, who was assisting the family, said in a live video. "And they beat up on a defenseless young lady who suffers from a mental illness."
By Tuesday morning, Chicago police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi took note of Tyla's viral tweet of the video and shared it, saying a criminal investigation had been launched. "This is beyond disturbing to watch and this young girl deserves far better," he said.
She was found hours later, reportedly riding a Blue Line train, ABC 7 Chicago reported.
Jara said he does not know why the family waited until Tuesday to contact police. He said the timeline remains unclear and many questions are still unanswered. For example, he is unsure when the beating took place, or when the possible sexual assault may have occurred within the five-day period she was missing. He said the Chicago Police Department's Special Victims Unit was involved in the investigation.
As of Wednesday afternoon, none of the suspects were in custody, and Jara said he did not have any information about them, including their ages.
"Due to the unique circumstances and the sensitive nature of the crimes involved, the interview process and the task of verifying the facts in this case will take some time," he said.
The Washington Post