ORLANDO, Fla. – Multiple teenagers arrested in connection with a fight after school said they attacked a classmate and stole his belongings because of his sexual orientation, according to the Orange County Sheriff's Office.
Nine boys were arrested on robbery charges in connection with the April 13 incident in which a Westridge Middle School eighth-grade student was jumped by a group of boys while he was walking home from school, deputies said.
All nine suspects are students at Westridge Middle School and are in either seventh or eighth grade. Deputies said at least two of the boys said the victim's sexuality was a motivating factor in the crime, but others didn't give a specific reason for the attack.
Video of the beating, which was posted to social media, shows a group of boys pouncing on the victim and kicking and punching him repeatedly as he struggles to defend himself.
His mother told News 6 the attack left her son with bloody bruises to his head, arm and ear. She said her 16-year-old son is currently questioning his sexuality, but she wasn't sure if that was the motive for the attack or if it was a robbery because the boy's headphones, baseball hat and phone charger were stolen.
"They had the actual incident on video. They told us they did not believe it was gonna be a hate crime because nothing was uttered. There were no slurs. They just felt that it was a fight. Which is bad enough and disturbing enough --but just a fight," Orange County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Jane Watrel said.
The Orange County Sheriff's Office is working with the state attorney's office to determine if enhanced charges would be appropriate.
"Several juveniles talked to our detectives and indicated they targeted the victim because of his sexual orientation," Watrel said. "At this time, we are working with the state attorney's office that's in charge of juvenile crime and whoever is assigned to the case we will work with to see if there should be additional charges."
Watrel said a hate crime charge would elevate the robbery charge from a second-degree felony to a first-degree felony and would likely mean a harsher sentence.