Kids Accused of Sexually Assaulting 8-year-old Girl in Phoenix; Victim Blamed by Parents, Taken From Home by CPS, Cops Say

Four boys ages 9, 10, 13 and 14 lured an 8-year-old neighbor into a shed at a Phoenix apartment complex, then sexually assaulted her, police say.

The crime happened last Thursday evening, and police were called to the scene after reports of a young girl running out of the shed, half-nude and screaming. Numerous witnesses helped police identify the boy suspects.

All the children involved are refugees from the West African nation of Liberia who live in the complex near Thomas Road and 43rd Avenue. The 14-year-old, Steven Tuopeh (pictured above in police mug shot) is being charged as an adult.

The shocking story gets even worse, a police news release relates:

The victim had to be removed from her home by Child Protective Services because her culturally backward parents blame her and feel like she's brought shame on the family.

UPDATE: 7-24-09 — Read our latest coverage, including our interview with the Liberian ambassador to the United States.

The full text of the July 22 Phoenix PD news release follows:

Phoenix Police Family Investigations Bureau investigators report the following information:

Victim: 8 year old girl

Suspect #1: 10 year old male: detained at JCC for Sexual Assault (2 counts),

1 count Kidnapping

Suspect #2: 13 year old male; detained at JCC for Sexual Assault (3 counts),

1 count Kidnapping

Suspect #3: Tuopeh, Steven b/m; 14-years-old; detained at JCC and remanded as an adult for Sexual Assault

(2 counts), 1 count Kidnapping

Suspect #4: 9 year old male; detained at JCC for Sexual Assault (1 count)

On Thursday, July 16, 2009, at approximately 5:15 p.m., an 8-year-old victim was lured into a vacant storage shed by suspects offering her some chewing gum. The girl was restrained while four of the male children, ages 9, 10, 13, and 14 sexually assaulted her. The shed is located next to a vacant apartment in the northwest corner area of the apartment complex at 2627 North 45th Avenue. All the suspects except one reside with their families in the complex.

On July 16, 2009 at 5:31 p.m., Phoenix police officers responded to an emergency radio call of an "unknown trouble" with a young girl screaming hysterically as she ran out of a storage shed partially clothed. Several young males were seen running from the area and one suspect (Tuopeh) was caught by officers.

The subsequent investigation revealed the identities of all suspects and multiple witnesses to include additional children who associate with the group in the complex.

On July 21, 2009 at 5:00 p.m., all four suspects were arrested by Phoenix Police officers from Maryvale Precinct and case detectives without incident while they were at home. Patrol officers then assisted Child Protective Services with removing the victim from the custody of her parents, who, according to detectives, blamed her for being victimized and bringing shame to their family.

All suspects were interviewed and admitted planning and involvement in the sexual assault. In addition to suspect statements and independent witnesses, physical and medical evidence combined to develop probable cause for the arrests and detention of the four listed suspects at the Juvenile Corrections Center. Investigators advise me suspect Steven Tuopeh has already been remanded over to adult court.

The investigative process for this offense against and involving children includes a number of steps and partnerships specific to child crimes. These include: forensic interviews by investigators certified to interview children; the participation of the national organization Child Help, with whom our Family Investigators share a facility specifically designed to address child crimes and assist with medical care, evaluation, and follow up done by doctors from St. Joseph's Hospital; the involvement from the start of the Maricopa County Attorney's Office Juvenile Crimes Division; and the immediate notification of Arizona Child Protective Services.

Just a note to let you all know I am told by investigators that determining names, ages, and dates of birth of these children is challenging due to the fact all these children are West African refugees from Liberia who have been resettled in the United States.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.