White House press secretary Sean Spicer said Tuesday that a Maryland rape case, in which an 18-year-old with a pending immigration case is charged with assaulting a 14-year-old girl, is an example of why President Donald Trump is making illegal immigration a priority.
Henry E. Sanchez, 18, and Jose O. Montano, 17, are charged with raping the girl in a bathroom stall during school hours at Rockville High School in the D.C. suburbs Thursday, Montgomery County police said.
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They approached her in a hallway and asked her to walk with them, police said. Montano asked her for sex, and after she refused, he and Sanchez forced her into a boys' bathroom, where they both raped her and sodomized her, police said.
"Let’s remember the human side of this, that this is a tragic event that no child, no person, no parent should ever have to deal with," Spicer said. "School should be a place where a parent puts their child on a bus or drops them off or sees them off and knows that they’re safe."
According to court documents, Sanchez, who admitted to having sex with the victim, has had an immigration case pending since August.
According to court records, Montano, who was charged as an adult, was born in El Salvador, where he lived for 16 years, the Associated Press reported. ICE officials would not discuss Montano's immigration status because he is a juvenile.
"I think part of the reason that the president has made illegal immigration and crackdown such a big deal is because of tragedies like this," Spicer said. "We act so many times when we talk about this and say why is the president dealing with this, because of this priority. Well, part of the reason is because of the tragedy that this young girl dealt with, had inflicted upon her, whatever the word is, but this is why he is passionate about this."
“This horrible incident shouldn’t change anyone’s minds that those schools are safe for our students,” Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith said.
He pledged he won’t allow the assault to become a political issue and denounced comments he has seen since the attack.
“While some would try to make this into a question and an issue of immigration, what comes down here is that we serve every student that walks in our door,” he said. “We are a public school system.”
Spicer also questioned the age of the suspects, who have been called ninth graders.
"I think he was 17 or 18 years old," Spicer said. "How does that person get put into the ninth grade?"
Smith explained they entered the school system in the fall with no credits, which technically makes them freshmen despite their ages. The victim is in the ninth grade.
Spicer said crime is just one aspect of immigration policy.
"People are victims of these crimes and they’re victims of the economic piece of it; there’s a national security peg, but immigration pays its toll on our people if it’s not done legally and this is another example," he said.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan also commented on the crime Tuesday.
"I am outraged by the brutal and violent rape of a 14 year old girl in a Rockville public school. Our prayers are with her," Hogan posted in a Facebook statement Tuesday. "The State of Maryland is calling on Montgomery County to immediately and fully cooperate with all federal authorities during the investigation of this heinous crime. The public has a right to know how something this tragic and unacceptable was allowed to transpire in a public school."
Hogan accused the school system of withholding information from the Maryland State Board of Education about the rape and the students involved.
“Montgomery County government and the Montgomery County police are cooperating and the school system is not and it appears as if they have something to hide,” he said.
Smith said all the information they have about the case as of Tuesday afternoon was sent to the state board.
A spokesman for Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett said his administration is cooperating.
“We want to get bad eggs out of our county, basically, but we don’t want our county police enforcing immigration law, but in this case I think everybody can agree that if these folks are convicted that we don’t want them in our county,” Patrick Lacefield said.
Investigators arrested Montano and Sanchez on school property. They are charged with first-degree rape and two counts of first-degree sexual assault.
"These are very serious allegations carrying a life sentence," Montgomery County State's Attorney's Office spokesman Ramon Korionoff said last week. "The potential of life in prison would be available as we prosecute these individuals."
Both suspects were ordered held without bond.
Montano is charged as an adult. However, a court-appointed attorney wants him moved to a juvenile facility. He is due in court March 31.
Sanchez will be back in court April 14.
Montgomery County Public Schools records show 27 high school sexual assaults or sexual incidents requiring police response in the previous school year, the News4 I-Team reported, including at least one incident at Rockville High School.
In 2014-2015, the school district reported 14 “sex-related” incidents requiring police response at county high schools.
In April 2014, MCPS told the I-Team it installed mirrors and cameras to reduce blind spots in some hallways of another high school in Rockville after a consensual sexual encounter wasn't noticed by staff or administrators.
Police described the bathroom where the rape occurred as being in a remote area of the school and said the rape took place early in the morning.
In a Freedom of Information Act request from 2015, the school district reported to the I-Team that it had 5,000 security cameras district-wide.
Smith said Tuesday the district will review all safety procedures in response to the rape.