Mom seeks answers after daughter brutally assaulted at football game

Photo By Steve Carter/Special to the Gila Herald: While most fans were enjoying the high school football game between Thatcher and Pima, some juveniles were behaving like thugs.

“They were out for blood. There was no reason. They didn’t know her. It disturbs me that kids that young have that much anger.”

Angela Larson – mother of victim

By Jon Johnson

THATCHER – The mother of a 13-year-old girl who was brutally assaulted by three female suspects at the Thatcher High School football game Friday night is seeking answers while raising awareness of a potential bullying problem in the school district.

The victim suffered a “severe concussion”, according to her mother, Angela Larson, after being beaten by up to three girls at a time in an unprovoked attack that occurred at the stadium during the football game between Thatcher and Pima. Multiple witnesses watched the attack, and videos were uploaded and shared on social media platforms, including the Snapchat app.

The Thatcher Police Department identified the three suspects and they will be referred to Juvenile Probation on Tuesday, according to Thatcher Police Chief Shaffen Woods, with likely aggravated assault charges pending. With juvenile cases in Graham County, officers inform Juvenile Probation of the situation and it is up to Juvenile Probation to order the detention of the suspects. In this case, possibly due in part to the holiday weekend, Juvenile Probation did not approve detention for the suspects over the weekend.

“They were able to locate the suspects, and they obtained admissions and stuff like that, so charges are going to be coming,” Chief Woods said. “They’re (Juvenile Probation) the ones that made the determination not to detain and to just write it up as referrals and send it up to them.”

Juvenile Probation will then review the referrals on Tuesday and submit them to the Graham County Attorney’s Office for charging if warranted.   

Graham County used to house its juveniles at the Eastern Arizona Regional Juvenile Detention Facility (EARJDF), however, the facility closed in 2018 after 18 years of service due to the loss of federal contracts and budget concerns. At that time, the county began to transport juvenile offenders to Florence in Pinal County to be held at a cost of $175 per day, not counting transportation costs.

“My daughter was laid up in a hospital bed and then home and wasn’t able to enjoy her weekend like she usually does because of all of this while these girls are still out roaming free,” Larson said.

The videos are disturbing, with one showing the three suspects kicking the victim as she lies on the concrete sidewalk. Another video shows a suspect repeatedly slamming the victim’s head onto the concrete while others watch. In both instances, none of the people watching the aggravated assault stepped in to stop it.

“I would just hope as a community we could do better,” Woods said. “Anybody who has seen the videos – there’s a little shock factor involved that people could act that way and treat people like that. It’s sad to me that these kids this young feel that’s appropriate behavior. That’s not acceptable and as a community, we need to do better.” 

The victim’s mother questioned why the attack on her daughter was allowed to go on for so long in front of so many witnesses.       

Still image from video: This image comes from a video that was shared on social media showing the three suspects punching and kicking the victim at the same time while she is on the concrete.

“Nobody stepped in to help her,” Larson said. “Nobody stepped in to intervene, nobody went and got an adult, nobody went and got one of the (four) police officers on site . . . Nothing was done about it.”

“All these people stand there and stand by when nobody helps because people are in fear. What has gotten wrong with our community and our world? This is a small-knit community. We’re supposed to be Gila Valley Strong.” 

After publication, another witness reported to the Gila Herald that some high school girls from Pima intervened once they realized the assault was happening.

Larson responded to the scene and was with her daughter when she became aware of the videos. At that time, she took her daughter to Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center for treatment and the Thatcher Police followed up with her at the hospital. 

Larson has started a Facebook page Justice for AUDI, and is speaking out about bullying and is questioning how or why this would happen. She has also shared some of the videos of her daughter’s assault on the page.

“I believe she was targeted because of her size and those girls obviously wanted to fight with somebody that night and they chose her, unfortunately,” Larson said.

She also questions whether the Thatcher School District had enough safety precautions in place that this sort of assault didn’t occur during a school function. 

Thatcher plays its football games at Eastern Arizona College’s John Mickelson Field. According to EAC Director of Marketing and Public Relations Kris McBride, the high school “was required to contract with the police and hire extra personnel to provide security.”

While Thatcher officers were at the game, they were there as a courtesy while still being on duty for the town and were stationed on the north side in case they had to respond to any calls in town, according to Chief Woods. While the Thatcher School District inquired about having extra officers at the game, it did not contract with the department for any officers, and Woods said he informed the school they would be there as a courtesy as they could.

“They (Thatcher School District) always ask us to provide security and if we have (the) available staff we absolutely will,” Chief Woods said. “Our jurisdiction is in the city (town), so that’s why we always tell them ‘look, if we’re going to be there we’ll help out if we can, but if we have calls in the city we’re going to leave and take care of our responsibilities.” 

Thatcher officers often are hired by EAC for college events, and the college also has its own police force. However, no Thatcher officers were hired as security for the high school game and no EACPD officers were on the scene either, according to Chief Woods. Once a Thatcher officer was informed of the assault, the department took the call and investigated the case, ending with the suspects’ referral to Juvenile Probation.

Still image from assault video: Several videos of the assault were uploaded to social media.

Larson also questioned why no ambulance was immediately called for her daughter at the scene. She said she was there with the police and her daughter when she became aware of the videos and immediately took her to the hospital after seeing them. 

Chief Woods said an officer at the scene reported not seeing any injuries to the victim and that the victim was on Snapchat. Woods said the officers also did not see the videos of the victim being beaten until her mother was present and were not aware of the possible severity of the assault. 

“There did not appear to be a need for medical attention, so that’s why an ambulance wasn’t summoned at the time.” 

Larson said the officers were not the ones to determine the severity of any potential injury and that EMS should have been contacted immediately. She also said the officer didn’t inquire if her daughter was injured. 

“Nobody asked her if she needed medical attention,” Larson said. “Nobody asked her if she was hurt. Nobody asked her if she needed anything. So, she ended up having a severe concussion. She has to go through this and it’s just not fair.” 

Larson said bullying is a problem throughout the Gila Valley, not just at the Thatcher School District. 

“I think this happens at several schools all the time,” Larson said. “And I think because kids are afraid to get retaliated against or kids are afraid to say something – especially when it comes to these girls (the suspects). The reason I am voicing my opinion for Audi and I want justice for her because your children should not be afraid. And you as a parent should not be afraid to stand up for your child and be in fear of retaliation and what’s going to happen to your child when you send them to school. You have to be your kid’s voice and I will be her voice until the very end until I feel justice is served because she has to go through this.” 

“When is enough going to be enough? There may not be a next time when a parent is lucky enough to walk out of the hospital with their child and take them home to monitor them all night long. Next time, a parent may be sitting beside their kid’s bedside in a hospital somewhere else deciding if they want their child to be an organ donor or not or pulling their kid off life support because of the brain damage – because of the extensive injuries.”