ALTAMONT, Tenn. — Five Grundy County High School football players are charged with attempted aggravated rape after an assault on a freshman teammate at the school sometime before 6 a.m. CDT Wednesday.
At a news conference, Grundy County Sheriff Clint Shrum said all five youths, ages 15 to 17, will remain at their homes with ankle monitors pending a court hearing Monday.
Twelfth Judicial District Assistant District Attorney David McGovern said prosecutors have not determined whether they will be charged as adults.
The sheriff said the five — a freshman, three juniors and a senior — are accused of attempting to rape a 15-year-old freshman with the metal handle of a dust mop in the school's football fieldhouse.
Shrum said a total of eight football players, including the victim, went to the fieldhouse at 5 a.m. Wednesday to work out. It's unknown how the boys gained access, he said, but the door was unlocked or blocked open.
Two of those players were in another area of the fieldhouse and have been cleared of wrongdoing. Shrum said one of the boys not charged went to sleep in a coaches room and another was in the fieldhouse film room watching films at the time of the assault.
Shrum and sheriff's office investigators interviewed the students, with at least one parent and the school's principal present, to piece together what took place.
The sheriff described the incident as "disturbing."
"After the workout, a couple of the individuals began wrestling around," Shrum said. "At some point, one of these participants, by their own admission, grabbed a dust mop with a metal handle and began tapping on the leg and the back of the victim. He then passed the dust mop to another individual.
"It was then that the victim was placed prostrate on the floor with his arms pulled behind his back. His shorts were pulled down and the knee of one of the participants was placed across the back of the neck of the victim as this occurred," Shrum said.
"Another participant held the victim's legs while he and a third participant used a metal dust mop handle to assault the victim," the sheriff said. "As this happened, another participant used a phone to record the incident."
Investigators retrieved the cell phone recording of the assault, in which the victim could clearly be heard shouting, "Stop, stop," Shrum said.
Shrum said there were no adults present when the assault happened and none of the boys had permission to be in the fieldhouse at that hour.
The school resource officer and coach reported the incident to the principal at 9:55 a.m. Wednesday and then started pulling students out of classes and conducting interviews, Shrum said.
"At 1 p.m., the SRO realized it was more than he could handle, so he contacted me," Shrum said.
Grundy County hasn't investigated a "hazing" incident that led to charges before, Shrum said, noting that "hazing" isn't a criminal charge. Instead, his office is focusing on elements of the incident that led to the charge of attempted aggravated rape.
Shrum said none of the accused boys appeared to show much remorse in interviews with investigators, apart from concern over being caught.
"We did have a couple of individuals cry," he said.
The five teens will appear before Juvenile Court Judge Trey Anderson on Monday, he said.
The sheriff said people in the community are upset.
"There's a lot of mixed emotions right now. I do not think that there's anyone in the community that does not want to see the right thing done," Shrum said.
Director of Schools Jessie Kinsey did not respond to a call requesting comment on Thursday. Shrum said Kinsey was made aware of the time and place for the press conference but told the sheriff that she "was not allowed to attend the press conference."
However, Grundy County Board of Education Chairman Bob Foster responded via email to a request for comment Thursday evening.
"The recent events involving athletes at the high school are currently under investigation by the district attorney general, the sheriff, and the department of children's services," Foster wrote. "Due to these ongoing investigations, and the involvement of minors, upon the advice of counsel, the board cannot have any comment on the matter. It should be understood that no member of the board has been authorized to speak for the board and any statement by an individual board member should be considered as a private comment for which the member will be personally liable."
Shrum also warned members of the Grundy County community to be careful about any comments they make publicly, because if investigators hear any remarks that sound credible, the person making them could end up testifying about what they know.
Fall break begins today, and students return to school Oct. 23.
WRCB-TV Channel 3 reported that head football coach Casey Tate has been suspended while the investigation continues.
Tonight's football game at Upperman High School in Putnam County is still on with assistant coach Greg Brewer serving as acting head coach, according to Foster's email.
Foster said a special called school board meeting is set for Monday at 6 p.m. CDT at the high school to discuss the school's football program. He said the school board's attorney will be there, too.
The incident in Grundy County is eerily similar to the rape in Gatlinburg that involved a pool cue and three Ooltewah High School basketball players who assaulted a freshman teammate on Dec. 22, 2015. The three former players were found guilty in August 2016, one on aggravated rape charges and two on charges of aggravated assault.
Staff writer Rosana Hughes contributed to this story.
Contact staff writer Ben Benton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6569. Follow him on Twitter @BenBenton or at www.facebook.com/benbenton1 on Facebook.