The mothers of two teenagers on the Ooltewah High School basketball team's trip to Gatlinburg say what happened to their sons' teammate Dec. 22 escalated from hazing into horrific, malicious violence.
Three juveniles are charged with aggravated rape and aggravated assault after an attack that sent a 15-year-old teammate to a Knoxville hospital. The freshman who was assaulted remains in a hospital recovering from surgery to repair his colon and bladder after they were ruptured with a wooden pool cue, sources told the Times Free Press.
"Horseplay is one thing, to ram an object in someone's rectum is to cause harm," said one of the mothers. "It's not regular behavior."
The family of the victim has created a gofundme.com account allowing people to make donations to the family. Visit www.gofundme.com/b2gdhe7g for more information.
The mothers will not be identified by the Times Free Press in order to protect the identity of their sons.
The three teens will not be returning to Ooltewah High School in January due to the severity of their actions, Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith said.
Both mothers say their sons were two of the four teens who were bullied by the older teammates during the trip. They said four boys on the trip were punched, kicked, thrown to the ground and hit with pool cues; but their sons returned home from the trip to the tournament without injuries, unlike the boy who was rushed to the hospital.
The whole team is traumatized from the event that took place in a rented cabin, one mom said. She said her son will never forget his teammate's piercing scream and opening the door to the sight of him lying on the floor bleeding.
"I thought the worst thing we had to worry about was them sneaking a little girl into the room. Not this happening," one of the moms said about the trip. "This could not happen in my wildest nightmares."
Authorities in Gatlinburg will not say if the three players, who were dismissed from the Ooltewah basketball team following the attack, remain in the Sevier County Juvenile Detention Facility or confirm if their scheduled bond hearings occurred Wednesday.
The aunt of the victim who is still hospitalized said her nephew "has a long road to recovery" and his mother is "trying to make sense of everything."
She said the family is hoping to see justice take place following the assault.
Smith said he plans to meet with Ooltewah school administrators to discuss bypassing the school's disciplinary procedures and having the case be handled directly by Assistant Superintendent Lee McDade.
Ooltewah High School Principal Jim Jarvis did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Smith said he expects the boys will receive serious long-term suspensions, which could mean an alternative school placement or removal from the district completely.
"We want to do whatever we can to make sure this doesn't happen again," Smith said.
Hamilton County Board of Education Chairman Jonathan Welch agreed with Smith, and said he is horrified by what has been reported.
"I expect a full investigation to take place and hopefully a review of everything," Welch said. "This can't happen again."
School Board member Steve Highlander, who represents Ooltewah's district, did not return a request for comment.
School Board member Rhonda Thurman said she has never heard of anything as awful as this assault during her 11 years serving on the board.
"How have we gotten to this point?" she asked. "It's heart-wrenching to me this boy could have died."
Thurman believes the rest of Ooltewah's basketball season should be canceled.
"I'm not holding the team responsible for the actions of three," Thurman said. "I'm holding the whole team responsible because somebody did not come to this boy's defense."
Thurman questioned why the team played in a game the day after the assault and did not pack up and come home immediately.
Ooltewah's basketball team has played three games since the assault.
Thurman also questioned how the coaches and chaperones on the trip did not know hazing or assault was taking place. She said coaches should have been able to stop whatever bullying was taking place before it got this far.
One of the moms said the victim who is hospitalized told the coach prior to the assault that bullying had been taking place during the trip. After the coach told the older boys to stop the bullying, the situation escalated to the assault, she said.
Both moms of the kids on the trip said they do not blame the coaches for what happened to their sons or the teammate in the hospital.
"The coaches wouldn't have any reason to believe a child on their team would be that malicious," one mom said. "I think they did the best they could."
The other mom said she understands why her son was afraid to tell about the hazing he endured during the trip.
She said the older boys on the team "have to put some sort of fear in you in the first place to get away with it. It's embarrassing, and the kids were afraid."
Both moms agree that the whole story of what happened that night isn't clear, and they want to see the teammates who committed the assault punished to the full extent of the law.
Thurman said she hopes this horrific incident serves as a warning to all students.
"This is disgusting, and we need to send a long, clear message to other teams that any hazing going on will end your season," she said.
Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow on twitter @kendi_and.