A ring of children as young as 7 in a small Pennsylvania community taught each other to have sex, and a half-dozen of them have been charged in juvenile court.
The children, all students at Northeastern Middle School or York Haven Elementary School, hid their activities from adults but readily answered questions asked by police. Their candor was all the more troubling, said Newberry Township Police Chief Bill Myers.
"These kids knew that what they were doing wasn't right, but they didn't know it was as bad as it was," Myers said. "There was a naivete about the legal and moral consequences."
Six children have been charged in juvenile court on charges including rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and indecent assault, Myers said today.
At least one or two have been convicted and sent to juvenile detention facilities, he said; their sentences are sealed.
Incidents of incest were discovered but not pursued criminally, Myers said. No adults were charged. The case has now been closed.
The activity started 2 1/2 years ago with just a few children, and by the time authorities learned of it in December, it involved 17 youngsters ages 7 to 16, police said.
Many of the children first became involved as victims, then they repeated what they learned with other children, said York County Detective William "Skip" Clancy Jr., who helped investigate.
The assaults occurred in homes and elsewhere -- such as in wooded areas -- in the small borough of York Haven, population 758, along the Susquehanna River south of Harrisburg.
More children would have been charged, but they were younger than the age 10 minimum for criminal charges, authorities said. Investigators interviewed about 25 children.
There were no immediate details on the punishment the convicted youngsters faced.
The prosecutor, Assistant District Attorney Mary Lou Erb, did not return telephone messages.
Police learned of the ring after a sleepover 16th birthday party for one girl that was attended by another 16-year-old girl, two 11-year-old boys and a 13-year-old boy, Myers said earlier.
"Supposedly what happened was they were playing spin the bottle, and things got beyond that," he said. "The story was the bottle pointed toward one of the males, and he had to have intercourse with one of the girls. Well, I guess this turned out to be just the tip of the iceberg."
After the birthday party, one of the 16-year-olds learned that one of the 11-year-old boys had been molesting a 7-year-old neighbor and told the victim's mother about it.
When that woman went to police, the girl, now 17, admitted that she had been having sex with an 11-year-old boy.
The girl who made the revelation was convicted of rape, because the difference in age between her and the boy was more than four years.
"I don't think [she] realized just how much trouble she was going to be in," the girl's mother said. "I don't know how it could involve so many kids."