First, reports say, they cornered him on an empty school bus.
Then they bound him with duct tape.
Then the three upperclassmen from Norwood (Colo.) Public Schools purportedly sodomized the younger, smaller boy with a pencil.
But that life-altering nightmare at the state high-school wrestling tournament in Denver last year wasn't nearly the bottom of the pit for the 13-year-old victim and his family, Bloomberg News is reporting.
You see, Norwood is a ranching town near the Telluride ski resort in the southwest corner of Colorado, about 350 miles from Denver.
And it's small, populated by a mere 440 souls.
So tiny that the hamlet's 300 school-aged children, preschool through 12th grade, are housed in a single building.
It's the kind of small town where everybody knows each other...and each others' business.
Indeed, two of the juvenile attackers in this incident are sons of Robert Harris, Norwood's wrestling coach.
Harris was also president of Norwood's school board.
The victim's father was the principal of the school.
What's more, the two families had been close, Bloomberg News reports. They had vacationed together, the victim's mother said, though in recent years they "began spending less time together because the principal's family felt the coach's boys had become too rowdy."
But when the principal-father confronted Harris about the school bus attack on his son, the coach said nothing happened.
So he took the matter to Norwood's Superintendent David Crews, who gave a one-day in-school suspension to the three boys accused of the assault.
“When we investigated this, we felt like, at the time, it wasn’t something... That needed to be reported. We worked with the parents and we also worked with our attorney on that,” said Crews, according to a report by KCNC-TV.
The father-principal, frustrated by the slaps on the wrists for the accused, dropped dime a month later.
And once police were involved, all hell broke loose in this community where outlaw Butch Cassidy worked the ranches more than a century ago.
"I knew it wasn't going to be pretty," the principal told Bloomberg News. "When you take on, first, a powerful family in the town — and he is also the school board president, and his kid had done something wrong — there is going to be something coming back at you."
Believe it or not, other students castigated the victim, affixing "Go to Hell" stickers on his locker and donning T-shirts that propped up the perps.
KKCO-TV noted that "some parents and students [were] enraged, saying hazing incidents happen all the time and the principal turns the other cheek" and is only reacting now "because his son was the victim."
More from Bloomberg News:
While the 7th-grade victim didn't require medical attention after the attack, he soon found himself repeatedly teased by students.
"They would say, 'What's been stuck up your butt today?"' said his mother. "Things were posted on Facebook, like 'Rot in hell, liar!"'
As word spread about the incident, townspeople turned against the principal and his family.
"When I was in school there might have been bullying, but there was none of this crap about telling the school," said Jennifer Long, a waitress at the Hitchin' Post Cowboy Bar, a popular eatery on the town's main street. "How you going to be tough if you don't get bullied sometimes?" she said.
Long's husband James Eilmann agreed.
"I got bullied as a kid because I had long hair and earrings," said Eilmann, a 45-year-old carpenter. "I played football, baseball and soccer and the older kids bullied me. But we always shook hands and it would be over with. But today, you can get prosecuted. It has all gone too far." [...]
"It should have been left alone," said Sheldon Cline, a 54-year-old electrician. "It should have been handled through the system here. If you publicize it, it gets blown out of proportion."
Soon the three accused attackers were cuffed and charged as juveniles with kidnapping, sexual assault, and false imprisonment, according to the district attorney's office.
Then Jessica Bicknase—identified in a police report as the mother of one of the accused, Bloomberg News reports—shelled out money to have T-shirts emblazoned with a slogan using the initials of the suspects. Bicknase declined to comment to Bloomberg.
It wasn't long before a dozen students wore the T-shirts to school and someone posted a sign with the same wording on the locker of the victim's brother, according to a police report reviewed by Bloomberg.
Students who wore the T-shirts told police they "wanted to support their friends."
More from Bloomberg News:
When police visited parents of students involved in the T-shirt incident to warn them against intimidating the 13-year-old, who would be testifying against his schoolmates in a criminal case, they found the parents instead focused on attacking the principal.
"The majority of the time was spent with the parents expressing anger at [the principal] for reporting the incident, and for not resigning his position," according to a police report. "We repeatedly steered the conversation back to the t-shirt incident, but the parents did not want to stop talking about [the principal] and his resignation."
Denver investigators said they were surprised by the response in the town.
"They blamed our victim," said Lynn Kimbrough, a spokeswoman for the Denver district attorney's office, which brought the charges against the three students. "There was a huge backlash, and everybody turned against this boy and his family for bringing trouble to their town."
In the end, one of the accused students pleaded guilty to sexual contact without consent, Bloomberg News reported, while the other two pleaded guilty to third-degree assault. They received varied sentences that included probation, community service, and restitution of about $2,500 apiece.
Bloomberg News adds that the principal was offered another job in a town 200 miles away that pays half his previous salary. The family moved.
Harris was reappointed Norwood's wrestling coach, Bloomberg News reports, and slapped with a letter of reprimand for leaving students unsupervised on the bus, Crews told police. Harris, through an attorney, declined to comment to Bloomberg News.
"Something negative like this can make something positive," Crews said. "We can share ideas on how to treat each other with respect and to know where the boundaries are."
Here's a local news report on the incident from KUSA-TV:
Interested in learning more about Norwood? Here's a video primer:
(H/T: Bloomberg News)