Tensions rise amid Cleveland rape allegations

March 10, 2011 8:18:29 PM PST
A small Texas town is now getting worldwide attention over an unspeakable situation -- a shocking number of arrests in the alleged rape of an 11-year-old girl.

It's a story that has left the community in Cleveland completely stunned, and in a city of about 8,000 people, word travels fast.

"I have had the New York Times call me a couple of times," said Sonia Porchia, one of the suspect's mother.

It travels faster when national media like the New York Times publish stories about it.

"Is this the only town in the United States that this has happened in?" Cleveland resident Jill Karoum said.

Folks here in Cleveland are still talking about the alleged gang rape of an 11-year-old girl last fall and the arrests of 18 boys and young men.

"Hey across seas, you do some stuff like that, they will shoot you onsite," one neighbor said.

Court documents indicate the girl was raped repeatedly from September through December of last year inside an abandoned mobile home. Investigators say they have recovered cell phone video of some of the incidents.

Porchia is mother of one of the accused. She doesn't see why the story would be so interesting to folks outside Cleveland.

"Really, basically, I'm tired of hearing it," she said.

What she wants to hear is answers. She says authorities have been long on allegations, short on evidence supporting them.

"We ask questions. We don't get answers to 'em. We just want to know what's goin' on, how far is this going and when is the end gonna come?" Porchia said.

County Commissioner Melvin Hunt says he is concerned about growing racial tensions in the community, which he's been elected to represent for more than 30 years. All of the suspects, he notes, are African-American. The girl is Hispanic.

"It's playing into it now. I hated to see that, yes," Hunt said.

He's admits he's not sure how to solve that, saying only that those who live in this small community must remember that they live here together as neighbors and what affects one affects them all.

But one pastor said this incident may bring the residents together.

"I believe any time the community comes together for a purpose there's always gonna be a goal to accomplish," Lake Station Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Richard Fontenette said.

Other residents told us they do not think that all the suspects are guilty. Some want to know how this crime could have occurred over and over for four months without anyone knowing about it.

"Pretty well sure all of 'em not guilty. How could this go on for so long period of time and nobody know about it? Where this happened at was 300-400 hundred feet from my house and I haven't seen anything going on down there," a Cleveland resident said.

No one with the city was willing to talk about the effect this case has had on the community.

We've been working on this story with our Houston Community Newspaper Partners, the Cleveland Advocate.