Longform

Why Would Five Teens Gang-Rape a Friend? Check Facebook

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Singleton shook his head. "No, man, this is going to come back at us."


On November 15, all five teens were charged with two counts of armed sexual battery and two counts of kidnapping. In Florida, it's unconstitutional to sentence a minor to life in prison, which means only Jayvon Woolfork and Lanel Singleton face that punishment. Following their initial court hearing in mid-November, Patricia was freed on $100,000 bail. Erica's family couldn't afford that sum, and she remains in custody. The five teens will be tried together.

The response on Facebook to the charges was immediate and crushing. Longtime friends quickly distanced themselves.

"To think someone as low and disgusting as you tried to be my friend makes me sick," one girl wrote on Patricia's wall in a post that mopped up 412 likes. "You are the scum of the fucking earth. I hope you fucking rot. I spit on bitches like you."

"You dumb fucking bitch," wrote another. "I hope you suffer your whole life!"

"Erica USED to be my friend, but in MY eyes Erica Michelle Avery is DEAD to me," another said.

Erica's family, however, had remained more loyal. On a recent Thursday afternoon, her mom and sister clamored around a counter at Paul Rein Detention Center to see Erica — and her father.

Upstairs, Eric Avery settled his 225-pound frame before a glass window. He'd shaved his long hair down to a short crop. When his daughter's name was mentioned, his hardened features softened. "She's a great kid, man," he said, pausing for a moment. "She just got mixed up in the wrong situation." Then Avery stood without another word and lumbered away.

Days later, a scheduling hearing arrived for the five teenaged defendants. Sitting in the back of that courtroom with her mom, Patricia Montes wore a black-and-white dress and charcoal cardigan. An absurdly large ankle bracelet was wrapped around her thin ankle. In her hands was a gold crucifix.

But the conversation with her mother wasn't so pious. "I don't want to be here," Patricia whispered. "Where's Erica? Where is she?" Patricia sighed. "I bet she's sitting in some random fucking nasty holding cell."

Her mom, wearing long fake purple fingernails, wasn't listening. She watched a lawyer arguing in front of the judge and opined, "That's dumb what they're doing. So fucking dumb."

Patricia agreed: "It's fucking dumb."

Moments later, Broward County Circuit Judge Judy Porter, who has said Patricia and Erica are involved in the most "depraved" crime she's seen, called Patricia to the front. The blond child glided to the stand. She received her next court date — May 1, the same as the other kids — and fluttered out of the courtroom. She paused to talk with Erica's mother, who wore a low-cut black dress and pouffy hair. Erica's sister sat beside them in ripped jeans. Her nose crinkled. "It smells like butt in here," she said, then was quiet.

Then Patricia was gone. Today, thanks to her bail, she's allowed to bounce between her mother's and grandmother's houses. But on one condition: She can't use the internet.

The only kid from that yellow house, in fact, who still maintains a social media presence is Jessica. The child, who declined an interview request "because I've had bad experience in talking to reporters," was silent on social media for weeks following the alleged rape.

Only on December 3 did she pick it up. "Girls with smart ass mouths just want a nigga that can tame they ass...," she wrote in her first post in more than a month. "Put her in her place... Have her speechless... Trust me, They like that shit! #REALSHIT."

She hasn't returned to school, which still pulses with gossip over the incident, and few have afforded her much compassion. Among the dozens of students interviewed by New Times, not one defended her. Most criticized her, citing her reputation at school. Nor has her family been a source of empathy. According to a police report, Jessica's grandmother warned the authorities that Jessica's mother is a "homeless drug user who will try to take away any benefits [Jessica] may receive as a result of this incident."

Then on a Tuesday afternoon last month, Jessica's grandfather answered the door to the apartment he shares with the child's grandmother. It was black inside. A television faintly played somewhere in the dark. "She brought this on herself," the gap-toothed man said of his granddaughter. "She put herself in harm's way, and that's just how I feel."

He declined to say where Jessica is now. Who's taking care of her? Was she all right?

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Terrence McCoy