TRENTON, N.J. — It started with a party invitation to a 15-year-old girl from some young men she knew. She took her 7-year-old stepsister to an apartment down the street from their home near the New Jersey Statehouse, where the girls had been hanging around outside on a Sunday afternoon.
For the younger girl, police say it quickly descended into a horrifying ordeal in which she was gang-raped by as many as seven men as her sister not only watched, but got paid by those who did it.
Their parents, none the wiser, thought maybe they had run away.
“We’re talking about a kid who told her sister to go into an apartment and let people rape her,” said Trenton police Capt. Joseph Juniak. “It’s unfathomable.”
The teen has been charged with aggravated sexual assault, promoting prostitution and other crimes. Her name was not released because of her age, but the county prosecutor plans to ask the court to try her as an adult. In the meantime, she is being held at the Mercer County Youth Detention Center.
When the girls didn’t return home by 4:30 Sunday afternoon, their parents called police, believing the older one had run away from home and taken her younger sister with her.
In fact, they were down the street inside a 13th floor apartment at Rowan Towers, a nearby high-rise complex so dangerous that Trenton police are hired as security guards at night.
“They keep it clean on the outside, but it’s what’s on the inside that you have to worry about,” said neighbor William Johnson, who says police are coming out of the building all the time.
Inside apartment 13-C, police said the 7-year-old was soon left alone as her sister headed to a back bedroom to sell sex to several men. When she came out into the living room, she handed her 7-year-old sister money and encouraged her to let the men touch her.
“It went from touching to straight out assault and rape,” Juniak said. “They threatened to kill her if she screamed or told anyone.”
Afterward, the child put on her clothes and left. Her sister stayed behind with the men.
Two women found the child crying outside the apartment and walked her home, where police were waiting.
The child told them what happened and was treated at a hospital. When police located the 15-year-old later that night, she also told them what happened and was arrested.
Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer said the crimes are among the worst he’s seen in 20 years as mayor.
“It’s sickening,” he said. “The police are taking this personal. I know there’s a place in hell for all the people that participated in this and I’m sure they will get there.”
“Personally, as a father with a 7-year-old daughter, I can’t imagine the horror,” Palmer added.
Lauren Kidd, a spokeswoman for New Jersey’s Children and Families department, said state and federal confidentiality laws prohibit the agency from commenting about possible prior involvement with the family. But Juniak indicated the department may have had previous contact with the older girl.
Police are now scouring video surveillance from lobby and elevator cameras to try to identify everyone at the party. They believe there were about a dozen people in the apartment, mostly teenage boys and young men who police say likely broke in – a fairly common occurrence in the crime-plagued neighborhood that sits in the shadow of the Statehouse’s golden dome.
Last week, police responded to a home invasion there and a shooting just outside the lobby.
Police Director Irving Bradley Jr. said the building’s management company, Interstate Realty Management Company, has been working with police to curb the violence.
“This is incredibly disturbing,” said Laura Zaner, a spokeswoman for IRM.
Two private security guards man the lobby doors during the day. At 5 p.m., two Trenton police officers take over.
Bradley said the company is in the process of installing more cameras and had just hired a third officer to work the night shift to allow two officers to do hourly hallway patrols. He said Sunday may have been the first day they were supposed to have started the patrols.
Chalia Johnkins, who lives around the corner from the Towers, said gatherings of young men are commonplace, and that police should have known something unsavory was happening.
“The police who were supposed to be on patrol should be held responsible,” she said. “They could have prevented this. These weren’t regular guards. They were police and they still didn’t see the baby crying?”
Annette Lartique, the city councilwoman who represents the area where the crime occurred, said the community would expect nothing less than the prosecution of everyone involved to the fullest extent of the law.
“I know we are going to send a message on this one,” she said. “Everybody will pay a price – from the person who opened the door to the person who pushed the elevator button.”
27 Arrested In Apartment Complex Where 7-Year-Old Was Gang Raped
Police have arrested a New Jersey man on charges he had sex with a 15-year-old girl accused of selling her 7-year-old stepsister to a group of men who gang-raped her.
Police arrested 20-year-old Gregory Joseph Leary of Trenton on Wednesday night on charges of aggravated sexual assault and endangering the welfare of a child. Police say he had sex with the 15-year-old, who under New Jersey law is too young to consent.
Police say they are investigating whether Leary was involved with the rape of the 7-year-old at a party Sunday night in an apartment complex down the street from the Statehouse.
Jail officials say Leary does not have a listed attorney. The prosecutor’s office did not immediately return a call Thursday on Leary’s attorney status.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.
TRENTON, N.J. (AP) – Police conducted a pre-dawn raid Thursday at a public housing complex where officials say a 7-year-old girl was gang-raped while her teenage stepsister got paid for it, and arrested 27 people on outstanding warrants.
The sweep on Rowan Towers was planned before the girl’s attack, Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer said. Police hope the arrests will lead to tips to help them find those who assaulted the girl; otherwise, the arrests were unrelated to the case, he said.
“This is only the beginning,” Palmer said. “We’re not going to rest until that area is cleaned up so that decent people can live without the threat of fear and violence.”
Police say the child’s 15-year-old stepsister sold her to have sex with as many as seven men and boys at a party Sunday in a vacant apartment near their home. The stepsister was arrested and charged with aggravated sexual assault, promoting prostitution and other crimes.
Many of those arrested Thursday were women, who told The Associated Press the warrants were for minor infractions. Police did not immediately return calls for further details.
Residents said the assault was clearly at the forefront of police officers’ agenda during the raid at the apartment building, a high-rise complex so dangerous that police are hired as security guards at night.
Tair Rivers, 27, said officers yelled, “What happened to the little girl?” as they arrested her and other women. Rivers was arrested for outstanding parking tickets, she said.
Rivers lives in 13-H, an apartment right across from 13-C where the party occurred. She said she was not home over the weekend but would not hesitate to tell police if she knew something.
“We all got kids,” River said. “If we knew something, we would tell.”
Police believe as many as a dozen people were at the party and say everyone in the apartment when the rape occurred could be legally culpable. There were security cameras at the complex and police said they were reviewing all available building surveillance videos.
According to police, the teenager and the 7-year-old were outside in the neighborhood Sunday when the older girl ran into two young men she knew who invited her to the party. The 7-year-old wanted to tag along because she was worried about the older girl’s safety.
At the party, the 15-year-old starting having sex with several men for money and then gave the younger girl some cash to let a group of men touch her as she looked on, police said. It soon escalated to rape and the men threatened to kill the child if she screamed or told anyone, according to police.
The girl later put on her clothes and left the apartment; her older sister stayed. Two women found the child crying outside the apartment and walked her home.
The teenager’s name was not released because of her age, but the county prosecutor plans to ask the court to try her as an adult. It was not clear who was representing the girl in juvenile court.
Interstate Realty Management Company, which manages the 15-story building, said about 150 people live there, and many of the apartments are vacant.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday called the incident “deplorable” in his first public comments on the crime that occurred in the shadow of the New Jersey Statehouse.