Ooltewah students, community gather to pray for victim in assault, rape case

Aunt says teenage boy told investigators and family that one of his basketball teammates video recorded the incident

Dr. Steve Highlander is first to pray in one of many breakout groups made up of four to six people each Tuesday night inside the worship center at Christway Church in Ooltewah.
photo Dr. Steve Highlander is first to pray in one of many breakout groups made up of four to six people each Tuesday night inside the worship center at Christway Church in Ooltewah.

More Ooltewah rape case stories

photo Dozens of people pray in breakout groups Tuesday evening inside the worship center at Christway Church in Ooltewah.
photo People gather outside Christway Church in Ooltewah Tuesday evening before a prayer service brought to light by recent events involving the Ooltewah High School basketball team.

More than 200 people gathered Tuesday night to pray for the Ooltewah High School freshman who was assaulted during his basketball team's trip to Gatlinburg, Tenn., just days before Christmas.

Students, teachers and community members huddled in small groups scattered across the sanctuary of Christway Church, whispering prayers for the victim, the school and the alleged perpetrators.

"We wrestle between justice and mercy," prayed Matt Moore, a pastor at Christway, a church neighboring the school. "God is the only one that knows the balance."

As prayers were offered, the 15-year-old victim was home from a hospital stay, recovering from the assault that ruptured his colon and bladder, according to family members.

The victim's aunt said the boy told both investigators and family members that one of his teammates video recorded the assault.

"One of the young men recorded what happened," said the victim's aunt. "It was one of the young men whom assaulted [him.]"

The aunt will not be identified by the Times Free Press in order to protect the victim's identity.

The aunt also said other teammates were abused on the trip to Gatlinburg, just not to the same level as the student who was hospitalized and required surgery. Two mothers of other players on the team previously told the Times Free Press their sons were punched, kicked, thrown to the ground and hit with pool cues but returned home without injuries.

Investigators have been told by the victim that three other boys were abused and the "beatings" were something done "on a regular basis in the locker room," according to the aunt.

She said the victim described the beatings to investigators as a "ritual for freshmen" and not an isolated incident.

Three former Ooltewah High School basketball players have been charged with aggravated rape and aggravated assault in connection to the case. Officials from the school and the Hamilton County Department of Education have not been commenting on this case.

The Hamilton County Board of Education is scheduled to meet privately today with its attorney at 5:30 p.m. Following that meeting, the school board will publicly discuss any action they may take in response to the case.

Multiple board members told the Times Free Press they hope more information about the investigation will be provided to them in tonight's meeting, as they still do not know many of the facts in this case.

Despite the somber details of the assault, the group who gathered Tuesday night remained focused on grace and healing.

"Let's keep thoughts of grace coming as we pray tonight," Moore said, before leading the groups in prayer.

After the time of prayer, Tracy Sutton, a resident of Ooltewah, said she came to the event to support the school.

"I'm not a parent of a student at the school. But I'm a mother, a citizen and a taxpayer, and I care about this school," Sutton said. "The whole community cares, and we want to wrap our arms around both the victims and the accused."

An Ooltewah freshman who plays on the junior varsity basketball team said the past two weeks have been hard, but he found the time of prayer encouraging.

"I never thought something this bad would happen," the freshman, who asked to remain anonymous, said. "Tonight's been good though."

For the first time since the assault, Ooltewah students will return to school today for classes.

Contact staff writer Kendi Anderson at kendi.anderson@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6592. Follow on twitter @kendi_and.