Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect new charges filed against the coaches.
When a high school basketball player told his coach he was being bullied, his tormentors retaliated by brutally raping him with a pool cue.
While the freshman lay bleeding in the hospital and the three bullies sat behind bars, the Ooltewah, Tennessee, high school varsity basketball team kept playing. Despite the fact their coach drove the victim to the hospital and the school said it was investigating, the team wasn’t sanctioned. Instead, it was allowed to play three more games before the season was canceled. On Thursday afternoon, the coaches and the school’s athletic director were charged and may join their players behind bars.
“Coach [Andre] Montgomery is culpable and so is the assistant coach, Karl Williams,” a source close to the investigation told The Daily Beast. “This doesn’t stop with the kids.”
It started in December when the team traveled three hours from Ooltewah to desolate Gatlinburg for a tournament. Some time on the afternoon of Dec. 22, Montgomery and Williams left the kids unsupervised.
“That’s when the first round of the attacks happened,” the source said. “The coaches left the kids for two hours to go grocery shopping. How do you expect the house to be standing after being left alone for so long, even with the best of boys?”
They “started out on the freshmen in the downstairs basement,” a source close to the victim said. “All of the freshman got the pool cue...” That included the boy who would later have “holes in his pants” and need surgery for the sodomy.
According to the source, the bullies are upperclassmen who apparently hazed all of the freshmen during their out-of-town stay.
Later on that night they headed upstairs where the 15-year-old victim was sound asleep and allegedly ambushed him. The freshman fought back against the licking, which only served to make their blows even more vicious. This was too much for the boy who told Coach Montgomery that he was being harassed. Montgomery, according to multiple accounts, marched over to the cabin and chewed out the entire team.
This reprimand set off a sadistic trio of basketball players who allegedly ganged up on their tattletale teammate while he was sleeping. The bullies were two sophomores: one a “thick, muscular” 16-year-old (who sources said is 6-foot-1 and also plays on the varsity football team) who pinned the 6-foot-2 “scrawny” freshman down, which allowed the team’s 17-year-old senior (6-foot-4, 230 pounds) to allegedly violate him, multiple sources said.
A fourth teammate whipped out his phone and recorded the horror, multiple sources confirmed.
Some time after the assault, Coach Montgomery drove the boy to LeConte Medical Center. Later the Gatlinburg Police Department showed up and arrested the three accused perpetrators.
The boy was initially released from the hospital and went back to the cabin, where he collapsed in a pool of blood, according to multiple sources. When the severity of his injuries were realized, he was transferred to the University of Tennessee Medical Center in Knoxville to undergo surgery. The rape was so brutal that the tip of the pool cue snapped off inside him and had to be surgically removed, sources said.
The victim is recovering from a ruptured colon and a punctured bladder and prostate, sources told The Daily Beast.
The boy has remained actively communicating on SnapChat and has shared some details about what happened that night in the cabin.
“The boy said his injuries are getting better and that he was doing OK,” the source said.
Two of the three boys remain in a juvenile detention facility in Sevier County and a third has been released. The reasons for springing him are unclear.
The pair who tag-teamed the boy were charged with one count of aggravated rape and one count of aggravated assault. The Sevier County prosecutor could upgrade the charges to four counts of aggravated rape for each boy and hit all three with multiple counts of aggravated assault.
It was highly unlikely that other teammates were unaware of what was happening since, the source close to the victim said. “There was a lot of screaming going on.”
And a source close to the investigation told The Daily Beast the boys “may have changed roles” by taking turns tackling the teen into submission before wielding the cue stick and plunging it into the boy “through his clothing.”
The boy who captured the assault on SnapChat was interviewed by investigators this week but “refused to say what his role was or if there was a video recording.” The teen still could face criminal charges for his chronicling role in the gang rape, even though his parents initially came clean about his involvement.
Eerily, the alleged senior ringleader had posted on Facebook when he was a freshman athlete four years ago some rules to avoid getting pranked.
“Rule #1: Never be the first man asleep when you with a group of people #SplashDown”
“Rule #2: Don’t prank everybody else around you and go to sleep. #That’sTragic”
After his name leaked online as one of the accused, his Facebook account got trolled.
“You’re a sick person. What you did was fucking horrible,” wrote one person.
“You’ll get all the ass reaming you can stand where you’re headed big boy,” wrote another.
Hazing is said to routinely occur in the Ooltewah locker rooms where the lights are shut off and, in the dark, younger team members are repeatedly walloped by their upperclassmen teammates.
“The players cut the lights out so they couldn’t see who it was that punched them and there was wrestling and horseplaying going on,” according to a source close to the victim.
Coach Montgomery would be next door to the locker room and would put the kibosh on the asskicking.
“The coach would hear the racket and told them, ‘Stop horsing around before somebody gets hurt,’” the source said.
Coach Montgomery’s attorney denied his client presided over such brutality.
“There is no culture of hazing or abuse at Ooltewah where athletes are encouraged or taught to violate the law (or even simply human decency) by teachers, administrators or coaches,” Curtis L. Bowe III said in a statement last week.
The source close to the victim acknowledged that while the attack was ferocious, the boy had mentioned that it wasn’t the first time he’d been hazed, given that the practice is ingrained in Ooltewah High’s culture.
“They pick on the freshman students but you never heard of stuff going this far in terms of hazing,” the source said. “These kids did something that is heinous and evil to me and how can you even fathom this kind of stuff?”
If the rape wasn’t startling enough, then the school’s sidestepping should be.
Principal Jim Jarvis made little of the gang rape in an email two days later. “A violation of team policy did occur,” he wrote, followed by Athletic Director Jesse Nayadley, who said there was “no reason” to look into the coaches after the attack.
On Thursday, Nayadley was charged with false reporting after he downplayed the diabolical incident to investigators.
It wasn’t until last Wednesday, more than two weeks after the rape, that the Hamilton County Board of Education and high school administration canceled the varsity basketball season.
Superintendent Rick Smith publicly announced he was going to forfeit the remaining 13 games of the Owls’ varsity season to douse the basketball bonfire.
“Since this speculation is likely to continue until the investigation is concluded, and since this speculation could threaten the integrity of law enforcement’s investigation, I have decided to end the team’s 2015-2016 season,” he read in a prepared statement.
Smith offered up “how heartbroken I am about this” and that he was going to “develop the kind of safeguards that will prevent this from ever happening again.”
For the source who’s close to the victim, the nonchalance by Coach Montgomery and the school seemed calculated.
“The school board members, they didn’t bother to come off from their little vacation and meet on this thing earlier,” the source, who requested anonymity, said. “That’s two weeks we’re talking about that they had the opportunity to get a hand on it and they’re waiting till Wednesday?”
The lip service seemed to have temporarily stalled the outrage since the team went on to play three games before the administration finally buckled to pressure.
Meanwhile, Coach “Tank” Montgomery has since been banished from setting foot on any Hamilton County school campus and relegated to sorting textbooks and teaching materials at a local book depository after administrators scuttled the rest of the team’s games, The Daily Beast has learned. “It’s not a supervisor position,” the source close to the investigation said.
Both Coach Montgomery and Asst. Coach Williams were charged with failure to report the rape to authorities and charged with child neglect for leaving 14 players alone in a cabin for two hours.
On Jan. 26 the charged defendants must appear in Sevier County Juvenile Court room. The senior, a source close to the rape case noted, will turn 18 five days later. That means he will be tried as an adult if the case isn’t resolved by his birthday on Jan. 31.
“And if he’s found guilty and incarcerated,” the source said, “he’ll be moved to big boy jail.”
But the source added that the prosecutor “is not inclined to transfer the case to adult court.”
The Hamilton County School District referred The Daily Beast to lawyer D. Scott Bennett, who declined to answer any questions.
“We are limited by instructions from law enforcement not to comment out of concern that doing so might compromise an ongoing investigation,” he wrote.
Hamilton County prosecutors have opened a probe in Ooltewah to determine if a history of assaults extends beyond this rape incident.
Once accusations came out claiming there may have been more than one hazing incident during the tournament trip to Gatlinburg. District Attorney Neal Pinkston’s office said it would dive in.
“When they said the hazing happened on the trip we didn’t know if that meant getting in the van in Hamilton County or arriving in Sevier County.”
Most troubling it seems is the collateral damage for anybody associated with the Ooltewah varsity squad.
While their season of 13 more games was over, the freshman teams schedule wasn’t affected.
But, according to a source close to the investigation, one of the freshman players who traveled to the tournament and had been a victim of the hazing showed up to play in Friday’s freshman matchup but was turned away and told to hang up his high-tops for the rest of the season because of his “association with the varsity team which has been sanctioned.”
Weeks before the alleged rape a Tennessee watchdog organization called Unifi-Ed had completed a bullying study. When reaching out to students throughout the state they found that bullying topped the list of kids’ concerns.
On Monday the nonprofit’s executive director, Elizabeth Crews, sent a letter to the Hamilton County School District’s chairman and the superintendent detailing at least five glaring ways that the district was “not in compliance” with state anti-bullying guidelines.
First, Ooltewah and other schools in the district have failed to give kids discreet ways to report when they’ve bullied.
“Having a safe, anonymous way to report is huge,” Crews said. “Their system has none of that.”
Crews is also stunned the district remains tone-deaf when it comes to consequences once retaliation is inflicted after bullying allegations get reported.
“I haven’t seen where it’s written down anywhere in policies, procedures or in the student handbooks what will happen if you do this,” she said.
Anything short of the bullies being tried as adults for some of the offended students, parents, and law enforcement officials will be an injustice.