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Eight Buford Middle School students have been charged in connection with a gang, whose members intended to retaliate against bullies on behalf of their victims.
Lancaster County Sheriff’s Maj. Matt Shaw said the 13- and 14-year-old students, seven of them members of a group calling themselves “White Mafia 14,” were taken into custody Sept. 20 after school officials learned of a fight in a school bathroom.
Though Shaw was hesitant to describe the group as a gang since it didn’t fit the statutory definition of a criminal gang and had no known gang affiliation, the incident in the bathroom turned out to be a common gang initiation known as a “beat in.”
“They had created themselves a little group, and as part of that group they had an initiation process in which they would beat up incoming members,” Shaw said. “What happened that day was a new member was initiated into the group and they went into the bathroom and the ones who were members beat the kid up.”
Shaw said the students, who couldn’t be charged with assault and battery since the beating was voluntary, were turned over to the Department of Juvenile Justice to face misdemeanor charges of disturbing schools.
According to a news tip received by The Lancaster News, the students represented themselves as a “hit squad” that bullying victims could hire to beat up their tormentors, a report Shaw confirmed.
“During questioning, some of the kids did mention that their purpose was to protect kids who were being picked on, but we don’t have any information that occurred,” Shaw said. “If that was their purpose, they hadn’t gotten around to it.”
Lancaster County School District Director of Safety Bryan Vaughn said the incident came to the attention of school officials after talk of the beating spread across school.
As it did, Vaughn said, some of the protectors started acting more like the bullies they were supposed to be protecting others from.
Vaughn said the student who was the “new member” was not seriously injured.
“We feel like there was some intimidation going on by this group, that there were some threats made against other students to keep it quiet,” Vaughn said. “Clearly, they were representing themselves as [a gang], even though they did not have any ties to national gangs.
“When you look at specific, negative gang behaviors, and how they were harassing and intimidating people and bringing new people in like they did, that pretty clearly defines gang behavior,” he said. “And that’s exactly the reason the district developed its gang policy a few years ago.”
Vaughn said only four of the eight students were directly involved in the incident in the bathroom, the student who was beaten, two students who did the beating and another who recorded the beating on video.
He said three other students who school officials believed to be part of the group knew about the initiation and helped plan it, but were not directly involved in the beating itself.
Those seven students, Vaughn said, were punished by various degrees under the school district’s gang policy, including expulsion recommendations for the two who carried out the beating and suspension for the others.
Vaughn said the eighth student was not involved in the initial incident and was not believed to have been part of the group. Though he declined to go into detail, Vaughn said the eighth student was suspended along with the others for “extreme misconduct” in causing a disturbance after the fact.
“While we don’t think this issue was widespread, and believe it was centered only around these individuals, we also think that it’s serious enough that we’re applying our gang policies to let people know such behavior is not acceptable,” Vaughn said.
Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151