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January 30, 2003

MS-13 gang rape victim: I can't stay

From: Somerville Journal, MA - 30 Jan 2003

By Hillary Chabot / Journal Staff
Thursday, January 30, 2003

Disabled teen talks about life after brutal attack

Like most normal 17-year-olds, "Maggie" has favorite activities like shopping, watching movies, and instant messaging on the computer - except this Somerville teenager now feels like a prisoner in her own home.

"You can see the change in "Maggie." She wants somebody with her all the time," said her grandmother. "I was told I can't stay in this neighborhood."

At her request, the Journal has changed the name of the rape victim. It is not the Journal's policy to identify any victim of violent crime.

Maggie was allegedly raped by four suspected MS-13 gang members in Foss Park on Oct. 24. The blue-eyed teenager, who is deaf and has cerebral palsy, has changed drastically since the alleged rape, said her 64-year-old grandmother, and is frustrated by the fact that she cannot go out of her house alone because the police and the district attorney have warned her not to do so.

Maggie's disability means she best communicates by writing or typing, which is how she talked with the Journal. "Cops say 'no' because it's not safe," Maggie wrote feverishly on a reporter's notebook about going out alone since Oct. 24. Her grandmother, who has been Maggie's main caretaker for the past two years, concurs, stating that the DA has urged them to move and is fearful of retribution.

On the evening of Oct. 24, Maggie and her 14-year-old friend, who is also deaf, were hanging out at Dunkin Donuts, police said. Three suspected MS-13 gang members now awaiting trial and a three other men began harassing the two, police said, so Maggie and her friend went to Foss Park to get away from them. When the two got to the park, the men reportedly overtook the girls and allegedly raped both of them, taking Maggie out of her electric wheelchair and raping her on a park bench, police said.

Jose Ortiz, 20, of Boston, Jesus Pleitez, 19, and Carlos Escobar, 18, both of Somerville, were each charged with seven counts of aggravated rape, two counts of assault with intent to rape, four counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over 14, and two counts of assault with intent to rape a child, and rape of a child said Middlesex District Attorney Emily LaGrassa. The defendants were arraigned on Jan. 23 at the Middlesex Superior Court where Escobar and Ortiz were ordered to be held on $50,000 bail and Pleitez to be held on $100,000 bail, LaGrassa said. Maggie is prepared to testify against what the grandmother says are "bad men."

The grandmother, a petite, sinewy, blond woman whose frailness belies her strength, lights another Parliament and tenses up when she talks about the defendants.

"They're sick. There has to be something wrong with them to go after a defenseless person. It's like going after an infant," the grandmother said. "I'd give them life [in prison], if I could. Then they'd never do it to anybody else."

Now that the glare of the media's attention is gone, said the grandmother, the family has felt lonely and isolated. The grandmother bitterly complained that no city officials have contacted the family or attempted to help them over the holiday season.

"During the holidays I thought, 'Where's everybody now?'" the grandmother said, adding that many people contacted her just after the alleged incident. The family did receive a turkey dinner from Alderman at Large Joseph Curtatone, the grandmother said, but other than that, no one has called.

The alleged attack has highlighted a growing gang problem in East Somerville that has steadily increased in the past year, said Maggie's grandmother, and caused the family to move to another neighborhood. Lower Broadway has become too dangerous, said the grandmother, who has lived in East Somerville all her life, but she is upset that she has to move Maggie and her sister, 15, and brothers, 14 and 16, away from their friends and the neighborhood they grew up in.

The two girls went to Foss Park right before the attack, Maggie's grandmother said, because the friends had hung out there in the summer. Maggie would always go to the park to swim in the pool and meet up with friends, the grandmother said, and perhaps the two thought they would run into friends in the park.

"Why shouldn't she go there?" Maggie's grandmother bristled at the question. "She's 17. She has a right to go where she wants to go. It wasn't dark, it wasn't late."

"I have a lot of friends here and she has a lot of friends," said Maggie's grandmother, who added that she worries about her other grandchildren. According to the grandmother and her friend Joan Guarino, women cannot walk down Broadway without being approached or yelled at by men proudly displaying blue bandannas, the MS-13 gang color. Since the cold weather, the activity has quieted down, but Guarino fears it will return with the warm weather.

"They say the gang members are dwindling - everybody's dwindling. It's cold outside," Guarino said.

Since the alleged rape, Maggie has struggled to make a normal life for herself, said her grandmother, which is difficult considering Maggie goes to school, returns home, and stays in the house for the rest of the night. This past summer, the grandmother said, Maggie went swimming in Foss Park after school, one of her favorite activities, then went to Perkins Park to watch kids play basketball.

Like any 17-year-old - almost 18, as she is quick to point out - Maggie nags her grandmother, asking if she can go to the store, go out to the movies, or go to Good Times, one of her favorite hang-outs. If Maggie is allowed to do any of the above, her grandmother must go with her, a law enforcement official told the family.

Watching after Maggie has become that much more difficult for the grandmother because Maggie's father is still in jail after an arrest in December. According to Maggie's grandmother, the 17-year-old often puts up a fight about her constraining environment.

"Don't yell at your grandmother, yell at me," said one member of the district attorney to Maggie when discussing her restrictive living situation. According to Maggie's grandmother, Maggie has often asked why she is in jail when she didn't do anything wrong.

"She's very frustrated and angry. She can't do anything. She doesn't want me hanging around with her, but what can I do? The gang is all around here," the grandmother said.

Although her life has drastically changed, Maggie has stayed optimistic. A smile often takes over her face and she makes happy noises as she sits with family. She happily writes back and forth about shopping, her brothers and sisters and animals. If she gets a dog, his name will be Pudgy, she said, and her favorite color is purple. When hearing a friend her age is coming to visit, one that she particularly likes, she squeals with delight.

Maggie has a support group for the deaf that she meets with at school, she said, and they have talked to her about self-defense. Since then, Maggie has mentioned getting mace for protection and taking karate courses. When asked what would make her feel more safe, it's one of the first things she talks about.

"When we move to a new house I'll feel more safe and maybe with mace with me," Maggie wrote.

According to her grandmother, mace, and even self-defense courses would be fairly useless because the cerebral palsy makes it difficult for Maggie to move out of her wheelchair.

Soon, the family will move away from the East Somerville apartment that the grandmother has lived in for 12 years. Maggie is eager for the move because it means she will have more freedom, her grandmother said. For Maggie's grandmother, it also means that Maggie can feel safe again and possibly relax a little more.

"I just want Maggie to be her happy self again. Not [worrying] about if it's safe here," said her grandmother.

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