February 26, 2020 1125 AM
ALPINE — An Alpine family is exploring legal options after a 15-year-old transgender teenage student at Alpine High School was assaulted off-campus.
That 15-year-old, whose name The Big Bend Sentinel is redacting because he is a minor victim of a crime, was assaulted earlier this month, reportedly by a classmate who was upset over the victim’s transgender identity.
The story quickly circulated on social media, where friends and family members decried what they saw as inaction by the school and authorities.
A GoFundMe account was also set up for the alleged victim’s family, where the organizer called for justice for the transgender teen. The fundraiser included photos of the transgender boy, which showed him with a bloody nose and a busted lip. It had raised around $2,000 by press time.
The controversy stems from an incident that happened at Sul Ross State University on Sunday, February 16. The transgender teen was on the university’s campus when an older student at Alpine High School beat him up, said Samantha Squalls, the victim’s aunt.
According to Squalls, the alleged assailant said he’d attacked the transgender student because it “pisses me off” that the transgender teen was “trying to be a boy.” Another student filmed the attack and posted it on Snapchat, a video-based social media platform, Squalls said.
In an interview, Squalls said she was frustrated with what she saw as a lack of action from the Alpine Independent School District and local law enforcement. “As soon as he got back to school, other boys have been picking on him,” she said of the victim. “The school is saying they can’t do anything.”
The identities of any other students involved in the incident have not yet been publicly released, since they are also minors, but the victim’s name has come to light on social media.
The victim’s mother declined to comment. Squalls cited legal advice from the Family Crisis Center of the Big Bend, a local domestic violence nonprofit which is reportedly helping the family.
Reached for comment on Monday, the Family Crisis Center also declined to comment, including to confirm or deny their role in the case.
Authorities are being similarly tight-lipped. Alpine police say they’re not handling the incident, which happened on Sul Ross campus. And the Brewster County Sheriff’s Office could also not release any information, including their involvement in the case, citing the active investigation and the involvement of minors.
Kent Dunegan, director of the University Department of Public Safety at Sul Ross State University, confirmed the details of the incident. A minor was accused of assaulting another minor at the Sul Ross football field, he said. University police were taking the lead on the investigation.
But Dunegan declined to comment on details, including when asked authorities were investigating the incident as a possible hate crime.
“I’d like to release [the incident report] and let everybody know what’s going on,” Dunegan said. “But at this point, we can’t release any info.” He was waiting on clearance from juvenile justice officials in Brewster County, he said. At press time, The Big Bend Sentinel had not yet seen an incident report.
Alpine High School did not respond to a request for comment by press time. In an interview, Becky McCutchen, superintendent of Alpine ISD, confirmed the basics of the incident.
“What I can tell you is, two Alpine High school students did have an altercation off campus,” she said. “It was outside of school hours.”
When pressed on criticisms that Alpine ISD wasn’t taking the situation seriously, McCutchen said the school was following protocol from the Texas Education Code. The school would be taking a more proactive role in the investigation if the incident happened at school, she said. “It’s a different situation, because it was off-campus,” she said.
Still, McCutchen pushed back against the idea that any students had been punished for defending the victim — including rumors that two students were suspended from school after they confronted the alleged assailants.
“In terms of other students being punished, that’s absolutely fabricated and probably taken out of context,” McCutchen said.
On Monday, the Brewster County district attorney’s office had not yet seen an incident report and could not comment on the case.
Still, the office said it takes hate crimes very seriously and would pursue a hate crime charge if the facts supported one.