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.

Domingo is much fairer than his dark-skinned cousin. He has a thin face and sports cornrows and a gold tooth; Martin is broad-shouldered, with a boyish face and wide cheekbones.

On August 6, Aunty was visiting friends at Heatherwood when four men, including the Avaloy cousins, cornered her. To get them to back off, she lied and told them she was a lesbian -- then declined all four of their offers to convert her to heterosexuality. Aunty's lesbian friend in the complex, who also has a crush on her, helped her play the part and pulled Aunty upstairs to another apartment.

When Aunty came back down, the cousins grabbed her again. Aunty slipped from Domingo's grasp as he kissed her hand. Martin wrapped an arm around her and planted a big kiss on her cheek.

"That's what I remember the most -- his lips," Aunty says, looking at Martin's mug shot.

The next morning, the girl showed up at Aunty's house again. It was Saturday, and Aunty and her little sister were chilling out, watching hip-hop videos. The girl started bragging about how the men at Heatherwood had kissed her the day before, just like they'd kissed Aunty. Aunty didn't know if that was true or if her niece was making up the story; either way, she wasn't having any of it.

"I was like, 'Oh, no, don't you even go talking like that! You think that's funny? You think it's good for grown men to be kissing little girls?'"

Aunty decided to leave the younger girls and spend the day kicking it with friends at a complex next to Heatherwood. Her friends are a tight crew of young African-American males -- some just twelve, some over eighteen -- who look out for each other and look out for Aunty, especially, because they all want to get with her. Around the boys, the girls would be girls and pretend to fight. The boys would drink and smoke weed. This was the first group of black guys that the girl had really met, Aunty says. In foster homes and other state facilities, she'd mostly hung out with Mexican kids and had a thing for Mexican boys.

Around nine that night, Aunty was back at the house doing homework when Anna called, looking for her daughter. The girl had said she'd be at Aunty's, but the girl was long gone.

Aunty went out in her sweats -- something she'd never normally do on a Saturday night -- to look for her niece. She found her down the street, at the dead end where the kids often hung out. "I just went there, like, 'Get home.' I wasn't playing," Aunty says.

Aunty was back at the house when Anna called again, still looking for the girl. Aunty was mad. She went back to the dead end, then got worried when her friends said the girl had left. She rounded up a posse and went over to the apartment complexes. At Heatherwood, she could usually find the girl just by yelling her name in the small courtyard. But her niece didn't come out.

Aunty was getting a bad feeling.

A man about 5' 6" with a goatee was standing outside apartment 210, drinking a beer. He told Aunty that her niece had gone to a field across the street with a group of boys. Aunty went over there with two of her friends, boys she considers brothers. She stood in the empty field shouting her niece's name into the darkness. She felt like a sucker. She knew she'd been fooled.

Aunty went back to Heatherwood and looked up to see another bro from the neighborhood carrying her niece out of apartment 210.

The girl was saying she'd been raped.

As Aunty grabbed the girl, a heavyset, balding man came out of the apartment: 45-year-old Edgardo Alvarez Williams, also from Honduras. Aunty recognized him as one of the guys who'd flirted with her before. But Edgardo had stopped when he learned Aunty was only fifteen, and he'd told her that he was old enough to be her father.

Edgardo was acting tough, the neighborhood kids say, sprawling across the staircase and telling them, "You don't want to mess with me. I'm dangerous; I got a gun."

These kids know that people who have guns don't say they have guns -- they pull guns. A group of boys surrounded Edgardo, and one, representin' Crips with a blue rag, stepped up. The boy's father was in prison for robbery, and the boy kept a close eye on his younger brother. He didn't like Edgardo making threats when his brother was around and talking about a gun he didn't have. He called Edgardo out and clocked him in the jaw.

As Edgardo dropped, the kid split. Then the rest of the crew got their licks in. They beat Edgardo unconscious and left his bloodied body lying by an old swimming pool filled with sand.

"That's my homeboys," the kid says. "I guess they just jumped in for the fun of it. On the news they said it was 71 people. It wasn't no 71 people; it was like seven or eight. She is a nasty little girl. It wasn't the rape; it was my brother. He threatened my brother."

When Anna got the call from Aunty, she knew something was very wrong. Aunty's voice was urgent, and "rape" was one of the few words Anna was able to make out. She grabbed a weapon and headed for the apartments.

Police cars were all over the place by the time she got there, Anna says. But the cops seemed more concerned with Edgardo's beating than any other assault. Anna's daughter was lying on the ground, holding her crotch, crying that she'd been raped. Anna and Aunty were agitated and exchanged heated words with the officers.

Finally, two ambulances arrived and took the girl and Edgardo away.

Police questioned Edgardo at the hospital. He told them he'd been with a friend who was drinking a beer, a friend whose name he doesn't know, when the Avaloy cousins, Domingo and Martin, came down from apartment 210. They told him about a young girl up in the apartment. When Edgardo walked in, he said, she was standing there, naked. He told police he sat down on the couch to watch television and didn't talk to the girl. He said he does not know English.

Edgardo, the son of a middle-class banana businessman, came to the United States legally eighteen years ago. He left two daughters in Honduras and visits them regularly. They're now seventeen and twenty.

Most of Edgardo's time in this country was spent in New York, where he has a ten-year-old daughter and two young sons. He came to Denver about nine months ago looking for work and scored a job at a pallet business. He was living in apartment 205 at Heatherwood, though his name was not on the lease.

Edgardo told police that Heatherwood's manager, Desire Bakyono, came into apartment 210 with a group of boys to get the girl. According to Desire, the girl and Edgardo were the only ones in the apartment. Both were dressed and calm. The girl was sitting on the bed, and Edgardo was sitting on the couch as if nothing was wrong.

A 21-year-old girl known as "Cocoa" told police that she went into the apartment with a boy. She saw Edgardo with his pants unzipped and the girl with her shirt wrapped around her neck and her pants twisted, crying that she'd been raped.

"I'm cool," the boy told Westword. "I'm not going to talk about that no more."

Desire is more talkative. He speaks English, French and three different African languages. After he left West Africa, he lived in New York briefly before moving to Colorado and getting a job managing the apartment complex. Desire wears thick-rimmed glasses, black loafers, gold jewelry, a sportcoat and a pager; as he tells his story, he holds a cordless phone in one hand and a cell phone in the other.

Desire says he gave the occupant of apartment 210 a three-day notice to vacate one day before the assaults. He'd gotten tired of the tenant's blatant disrespect for the rules, including allowing other men to live in the $400-a-month apartment. Among them were the Avaloy cousins.

Desire called the cops because things at the complex seemed to be heating up, he says, and it took police 35 to 40 minutes to arrive. According to Detective Larry Martinez, an Aurora Police Department spokesman, officers were on the scene in six minutes.

"When the cops came here, everything was over," Desire says. "The guy was unconscious. I think the beating's kind of a good lesson."

The girl has spoken with police at least twice.

During the first interview, while she was at the hospital on August 7, she told police that four men had pushed her into the apartment. She said two men stripped her to her bra and held her arms and feet down; her description of their appearance matches the Avaloy cousins.

An older, balding man -- someone who resembled Edgardo -- kissed her for about five minutes and was the first to penetrate her. The next thing she remembered, she said, was her friends coming to her rescue. She left without her underwear, socks or shoes.

When police interviewed the girl again on August 11, she identified the Avaloy cousins as the men who'd grabbed her arm and pulled her into their apartment. This time she told police that one of the cousins -- she wasn't sure which -- got on top of her first and raped her when her eyes were shut. She said it hurt. The two were arguing in Spanish, and she couldn't understand them. Then two older men, one of whom she described as Edgardo (although she didn't pick him out of a lineup), entered the room. The first two men switched positions.

The girl described both the man who raped her first and the man who went second as "the light-skinned one." After that, another man, with a goatee and wearing a dark hat, got on top of her and raped her.

Then a fourth man, someone consistent with the balding Edgardo, got on top of her, the girl told police. That contradicted her initial interview, in which she described someone matching Edgardo's description as first to rape her.

A beam of light shining through the closed window in the darkened apartment was all that allowed the girl to identify the men, she said.

On August 9, Aurora police stopped two black men who appeared to be burglarizing a vehicle at the Heatherwood Apartments. They weren't, but a boy from the neighborhood stepped up and told the officers that police were looking for the men in connection with the twelve-year-old girl's assault. The men volunteered blood for DNA testing and were released to a friend, who said he could put police in touch with the real culprits. The friend said he'd have the Avaloy cousins at Heatherwood the next day.

After meeting the officers at Heatherwood, Domingo and Martin agreed to be questioned at Aurora police headquarters. Both agreed to give blood. Domingo talked with police first. He said the girl had danced as she took off her clothes. He told the officers they wouldn't find anything on the girl that could be traced back to him, but they might find something to lead them to Edgardo, although he doubted that, because Edgardo has young children. Martin went next. He, too, told police that the girl did a striptease. He said he went to Edgardo for help getting her out of the apartment because he feared that people would think he was raping her if he tried to get her out on his own. He also told police that they'd find no evidence that he'd touched her.

The Avaloy cousins both told police the girl looked drunk. Anna says her daughter told her she'd taken a sip of alcohol that day; the girl also told police she'd consumed a small amount of alcohol. Aunty says the girl didn't seem drunk when she'd found her earlier in the evening, hanging out at the dead end. The girl didn't drink, Aunty adds, but looked forward to drinking when she got older.

"I wouldn't give a fuck if my daughter was out there butt-ass naked, dancing on the roof of the apartment," says Anna. "It don't give four grown-ass men, one in their forties, one in their thirties, the right to rape my daughter!"

Aurora police picked up Edgardo on August 13, after he was released from the hospital. Neighbors say around that time, Immigration officials came back to the apartment complex for the two men police had detained before the Avaloy cousins, the men who'd appeared to be breaking into a vehicle.

A man then called the police and offered to lead them to the fourth man they wanted to speak to in connection with the rape -- if they could help free the informant's friends from Immigration. (His officers wouldn't have called Immigration on the men, Detective Martinez says; a spokesman with Immigration couldn't confirm or deny that the men were deported, even though Westword provided their names, dates of birth, location of arrest and country of origin.)

The informant told officers he'd conducted his own investigation and it had led to 33-year-old Gilberto Castillo Bernardez, who was alone with the girl in the bedroom and came out telling Edgardo they needed to run away.

Gilberto is also from Honduras. He worked at a mail-processing facility for almost four years, and everyone there says he was a nice guy who spoke English, Spanish and a dialect from Honduras all fluently. He has a driver's license and a Social Security number, but according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, he may be in the country illegally. Until 2002, Gilberto lived in Heatherwood, in an apartment next door to the manager. "He'd help my wife carry the groceries and everything," Desire says.

The informant took police to Gilberto's apartment. The girl identified him as one of her assailants from a photo. Gilberto is 5'5" and has a goatee, but Aunty doesn't recognize him as the man she saw drinking a beer outside of apartment 210 the night of the assault.

In retrospect, Aunty thinks that guy was a lookout, standing guard while her niece was raped inside the apartment. The Hondurans never stand around drinking alone, Aunty says.

The night of September 1, a car rolled up to the curb by the complex where Aunty's friends live, the apartments next to Heatherwood.

A sixteen-year-old boy stood outside, hugging a girl less than a hundred yards from his apartment. He thought the car was going to park, but then he saw the window roll down.

"And they just start, pap-pap-pap-pap-pap-pap-pap-pap-pap-pap, and them mugs was just skippin' across the street," he says, bumping his head to the Lil Jon blaring from his apartment, an unlit cigarette in his hand.

The boy pushed his friend out of the way and ran for the fence. It was the first time he'd been shot at, he says; he never "beefs" with anybody. He thinks the bullet hit him before he leaped the fence. He pulls down his Nike Air -- easily, because the shoe has no laces --and pushes back his sock to show where the hollow-tip bullet entered near his heel and came out the side of his foot.

He thinks that whoever held the .45-caliber pistol that let about ten bullets loose that night was looking to get revenge for Edgardo -- retaliation on the neighborhood from "the African dudes."

Aurora police have made no arrests in connection with Edgardo's beating, and they arrested no one after the shooting. Both cases are "inactive," although Detective Martinez says they can be reactivated if and when some leads are developed.

Looking at mug shots, the sixteen-year-old says he doesn't recognize any of the rape suspects as the shooter. He probably wouldn't say if he did. "If they come back, the next time they better put me down, 'cuz if not, shit," he says, then sighs. "The shit is crackin'."

On November 12, Gilberto, Edgardo and Martin sat in a jury box in the Arapahoe County Courthouse in orange jumpsuits and sandals, shackled at the wrists and ankles. They were in court for their preliminary hearing on sexual-assault and kidnapping charges.

Martin's cousin, Domingo, is on the run; he fled when he was released after questioning. Police believe he may be in North Carolina. Friends say he's probably in California or Honduras. Anna is appalled that the police ever released Domingo. But Detective Martinez points out that the police are responsible for positively identifying suspects and gathering sufficient evidence to support criminal allegations, not keeping an eye on illegal immigrants. Arrest warrants for the men weren't issued until mid-August.

Gilberto's attorney refused to discuss the case or put Westword in touch with his client. Gilberto's wife, mother-in-law and three toddler daughters attended the preliminary hearing. "There's Daddy," said a little girl holding a lollipop.

There was lots of chatter in the courtroom, and the attorneys defending the Hondurans whispered to each other over coffee, a chocolate bar and a sandwich. An Aurora police detective was the only one called to the stand. The girl and her mother were not in the room.

The defense attorneys dwelled on the girl's changing story. They brought up alcohol, and the fact that the girl said she'd smoked marijuana that day. They mentioned that the girl faced menacing charges. (Anna says her daughter pulled a knife on someone once, but she doesn't have any details, and juvenile records are kept confidential.)

None of the men from Honduras could afford the $150,000 bond, so they'd been in Arapahoe County Jail since their arrests three months earlier. The three attorneys fought to lower the bond, talking with the judge and then talking with family members, trying to determine what, if anything, they could afford to bail out their loved ones.

Only one of the attorneys was successful. Edgardo's lawyer managed to convince the judge to drop the bond to $50,000. At the end of November, Edgardo's older sister, Sixta Aquino, traveled to New York to raise the money.

Another hearing is scheduled for December 20. In the meantime, Anna says, the district attorney has been asking for her help in tracking down Cocoa, the 21-year-old who told police she went into apartment 210 and helped take the girl out. Anna wonders why she should have to find the witness. She has enough to do between working a job in the service industry, raising her toddler son and keeping up with her parole officer.

At the address listed for Cocoa on the police report, the complex manager says the woman, whose real name is Nicole Nichols, vacated the premises without notice and left no forwarding information.

At the Heatherwood Apartments, Desire has evicted the tenant from 210, where Martin and Domingo lived without permission, and also from 205, where Edgardo stayed.

The teenagers who were at Heatherwood that night, Aunty's friends, still gather at the complex next door. They laugh at Edgardo's mug shot. They laugh at his eyes swollen shut from their blows.

Soon after the assault, the girl was back at Heatherwood, hanging out with Tammy Johnson's twelve-year-old daughter. But Johnson told the girl she was no longer welcome after the girl cursed out the apartment manager, and she sent her home. "The mouth, good things don't come out," Desire says.

Johnson's daughter thinks her former friend "got what she deserved."

But long before the rape, this girl -- like all children -- deserved a chance at a normal life. "Why do kids drink and do drugs at twelve?" asks Shari Shink, founder/director of the Rocky Mountain Children's Law Center. "It's an alternative; it's an alternative to nothing. Or it covers up the pain, or the sort of lost hope, or no expectations for a decent future, or because they're looking for some way to connect with some other family, if they don't have their own."

Anna says her daughter had a great sense of humor before the assault. The girl was a poet who could improvise rhymes off the top of her head and spit them right out of her mouth. But after that night, she laughed less and took extra steps to keep her body clothed, even in front of her mother.

By mid-August, Anna returned the girl to the state's custody. She was taken to Montview Youth Detention Center, a maximum-security facility that's one of the state's largest for juveniles. "It's not just a jail for kids," says Mike Knight, a spokesman for the Arapahoe County District Attorney's Office. "When you're there, you receive treatment. They don't send you there just to punish you."

After a brief stay at the psychiatric hospital at Fort Logan, the girl is back at Montview. She no longer writes poetry, Anna says.

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Luke Turf

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