Hundreds of rage-filled phone calls, emails and social media posts have bombarded Montgomery County education officials and elected leaders in the days since the arrests of two Rockville High School students on rape charges.
The messages, riddled with personal attacks and racial slurs, have come from across the United States as news of the alleged attack by two Central American students entered the inflamed national debate over immigration. Not only are the messages exposing ugly biases, but they’ve become a distraction at a time when the school community is seeking answers about the reported sexual assault in a school bathroom.
Montgomery County Public Schools spokesman Derek Turner said Friday the backlash has brought some staff members to tears, and a handful of messages were so threatening that they were forwarded to law enforcement. On Wednesday, the county police presence at Rockville High was stepped up in response to one such call.
Much of the vitriol is not coming from community members, but from people in other counties and even other states, officials say.
“This is the outside world yelling at our students,” Turner said.
The reported March 16 rape of a 14-year-old girl in a secluded part of Rockville High has landed in the political fray because the two accused students, Henry Sanchez Milian and Jose Montano, had arrived last year from Central America. Federal authorities determined that both crossed the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, but let them join their guardians in Maryland, The Washington Post reported. The teens, charged with rape and sexual assault, are being held without bond in the county jail.
Turner estimated that MCPS, Rockville High and school board members have received about 500 emails about the alleged attack. Some writers have harassed employees on their personal emails or social media accounts.
MCPS spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala said one caller talked about dumping “burning coals of fire” on her.
Many of the enraged callers and writers blame MCPS for enrolling Sanchez Milian, 18, and Montano, 17, and allowing them to cross paths with younger students.
“ALL of the school authorities are co-conspirators and accomplices in the rape of this young girl and YOU are child molesters,” one person wrote to the general MCPS comment address. “[T]oo bad it wasn’t one of YOUR daughters.”
Others focused the bile on immigrants.
“Why are 18-year-old men from a rape culture being allowed to attend classes with children?” another person wrote. “Anyone who harbors illegals should be in prison. When these types of attacks escalate, don’t be surprised to see vigilante justice carried out. Maybe that’s what we need.”
Marylou Berg, Rockville’s director of communications, said government officials have also received a slew of threatening and offensive emails. Police were alerted to several emails that the mayor’s office and City Council members received, she said, adding she could not comment further because of an ongoing investigation.
Several emails shared with Bethesda Beat directly attacked individual council members or the city government at large, expressing hope that violence occurs against them or their family members. The writers criticized Rockville for considering status as a sanctuary city and accused officials of being criminal accessories to the reported rape.
Many of the emails have come from out of the area, Berg said. She noted there have been numerous positive emails as well.
MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith has received a significant amount of criticism, with some faulting his overall leadership and others taking exception with his response to the arrests. An online petition has been circulating calling on Smith to resign.
On Friday afternoon, about 1,000 people had signed on to the effort launched by someone identified as an MCPS student who chairs the Montgomery County Federation of Teenage Republicans. A letter attached to the petition accused Smith of creating a haven for undocumented immigrants.
“This rape at Rockville High School should be a wake up call. Now is the time to reverse the sanctuary school policy,” the letter stated.
Turner said misinformation has contributed to the outrage.
A Supreme Court ruling bars MCPS from denying a student admission based on immigration status, he said. And the indignation that Sanchez Milian and Montano were considered freshmen despite their ages is also misplaced, since older and younger teens come into contact routinely at all high schools, Turner said.
Turner also said reports that Smith was castigating parents for being racist had fueled the fire. In a statement, the superintendent did say that some people were crossing the line into threatening speech and xenophobia, but he also expressed horror at the reported sexual attack and voiced his commitment to student safety, Turner said.
He said he hopes the public’s focus can move from immigration issues, which he called a “red herring,” to addressing school security and preventing sexual assault.
MCPS is planning to review safety procedures at all high schools in coming days and release recommendations for improvement, according to Turner.
Staff writer Joseph Zimmerman contributed to this report.