Hanging Out

She told police that four black men overpowered her. She said hands came from all directions, pulling her clothes off, touching her breasts, putting fingers inside her. Then each man took a turn raping her.

Doctors noted signs of trauma to her twelve-year-old body and found traces of semen.

Police located her shoes, socks and blue Superman underpants amid the crumpled bedsheets on the floor of apartment 210 in the Heatherwood Apartments.

A few days earlier, she'd run away from a state detention facility in Colorado Springs to be with her 31-year-old mother, Anna, who'd lost custody of the girl when she went to prison in 1999. Anna says she knows what her daughter's going through: Anna was raped at about the same age but didn't receive treatment or therapy for the assault until she was locked up, more than a dozen years later. Now her daughter's locked up, too.

Three of the four men charged with kidnapping and sexually assaulting the girl are also behind bars.

The men are from Honduras, immigrants who found a home at the Heatherwood Apartments. The complex, near Peoria and Colfax in Aurora, is a racial melting pot, one that came to a boil on August 7, when a girl trying to leap to womanhood in a single summer got a very adult lesson. The violence bred more violence -- and more victims.

News accounts the next day reported that a seventy-person mob had delivered street justice to one of the accused rapists. Although the reports weren't quite right -- nothing in this saga is -- street justice may be the only justice here.

Anna grew up in the neighborhood and has a huge family of siblings and half-siblings. Anna has another daughter who was also taken away by Social Services when Anna went to prison. The girls have a baby brother, too, a child Anna gave birth to after she got out of prison two years ago. That baby has a different father who's not in the picture, Anna says. The girl has contact with her father, but he doesn't live with the family. The girl was really close to two of Anna's half-sisters, who live within walking distance of Anna's apartment in a low-income housing complex. One half-sister is eleven, the other now sixteen; Anna moved out of her father's house soon after the older girl was born. The girl calls the sixteen-year-old "Aunty." When they were little, the girl and her younger aunt were like sisters. They'd come up with dance routines, and Aunty was their audience.

While Anna was in prison and the girl was in foster care, Aunty grew up. She now styles a nose ring and braids. Like all of the women in this African-American family, Aunty has almond-shaped eyes -- but hers are so dramatic that people say she looks Chinese. Aunty's as book-smart as she is street-smart, and says she plans on being a doctor one day.

When the girl ran away -- again -- in early August, she ran right to the neighborhood where Anna and Aunty live. Aunty says her niece is "impressionable."

She was definitely impressed by Aunty's popularity with the opposite sex.

Boys and men alike flock to Aunty. Men old enough to be her father, boys just old enough to make any action with her illegal. When Aunty's out in the neighborhood, men always try to romance her. It was no different at the Heatherwood Apartments.

Around Aunty, the girl tried to drop her childish ways and picked up an attitude.

"Once I introduced her to my crowd, it was, 'Whoa!' She transformed in one day," Aunty says. "Somebody could be like, 'You're scared to jump off a cliff,' and she'd be like, 'I'm not scared.'"

The cliff was apartment 210 at Heatherwood.

A three-story brick apartment complex, Heatherwood is filled with people from this country, from other countries. At dinner time, the smell of Mexican food lingers in the air. African immigrants walk around speaking French, smiling and waving to each other. Some have married white people; they speak English with their spouses. Immigrants -- both legal and illegal -- and locals mingle in the courtyard, where children bounce balls against the wall.

Most of the kids in the neighborhood are African-American; some are white. They listen to hip-hop and wear baggy clothes. They call the black men from Honduras "African dudes" because of their dark skin tone and thick accents -- even though the Central American natives speak Spanish.

Two of the Hondurans are cousins: 19-year-old Domingo Lopez-Avaloy and 22-year-old Martin Garcia-Avaloy. Martin is in the country legally, according to his lawyer; he has a driver's license and a Social Security number. Domingo came to Denver just recently after sneaking across the Mexican border. He seemed like a normal guy to the people in the kitchen where he worked for two months.