Don't Send Your Kids to Ooltewah

Not too long ago, many of us were freshman in high school.  Coming from junior high, freshman year is a big leap from the eighth grade.  Adjusting to a new school and new environment can be difficult and marks the common experience of freshman year.  The transition from middle school to Ooltewah High School was more difficult than others for this particular fifteen year old boy.

On a school basketball trip to Gatlinburg, a 15-year-old student was held down by two fellow teammates while a third forced a pool stick into his rectum causing it to puncture his colon and break off in his bladder.  He was hospitalized for the next eight days.

The other teammates were in another room while the coaches were upstairs.  Everyone became aware of situation when they heard a loud scream of pain and when the coaches finally entered the room, the freshman was covered in urine, blood, and feces.  

The rape occurred around 7:00 p.m. on Dec. 22, and authorities weren’t notified until 12:34 am on Dec. 23.  All three teammates have been charged with aggravated rape and are next scheduled to appear before the Sevier County Juvenile Court on March 15th.

According to coverage by reporters at the Chattanooga Times Free Press, parents and students have complained for years that school officials have failed to adequately deal with claims of assault and bullying, but the severity of this crime prompted the first serious criminal investigation into Ooltewah’s toxic culture.

A number of former Ooltewah students have stepped forward since the assault claiming that they too were physically abused by teammates and classmates, but little to nothing was done by school officials who were notified. Some have even alleged that they were sexually abused by teachers and coaches who introduced them to alcohol and pornography before molesting them.

Tennessee has a law on reporting child abuse and child sexual abuse which “mandates reporting by any person who knows or has reasonable cause to suspect that a child has been sexually abused, regardless of whether it appears the child has sustained an injury as a result of the abuse.”  The coaches nor the school reported the incident to authorities.  

To add another layer of potential mishandling to this case, the Gatlinburg detective who was responsible for investigating the case is now being investigated himself, for perjury. Detective Rodney Burns is currently being investigated for his testimony on Feb. 15 during the preliminary hearing per request of Hamilton County District Attorney, Neal Pinkston. Burns is denying all allegations of perjury.

This has been a recurring pattern for the Ooltewah schools.  According to a woman named Tonya McBryar, her son was beaten on an Ooltewah bus four years ago so severely, her son now has brain damage.  No punishment was given to the attacker. This is just one of the many other attacks that has happened at a bullying or hazing level at the Ooltewah schools.

As for punishment for the sexual assault, the basketball ball season was suspended.  The coaches are on leave without pay and, including the athletic director, are being charged with failing to report child abuse suspected child sexual abuse.