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Tampa police: Teen rapes fellow student inside Chamberlain High School

TAMPA — It was early in the school day, and the 16-year-old student had just gone to grab something from her locker.

But on her way back to class, another student followed her. As they passed a boy's restroom, police say, he pushed her inside and raped her.

Then he returned to class. The girl, shaken and crying, found Chamberlain High School's police resource officer.

Authorities did a medical exam and interviewed the young woman and her suspected attacker, an acquaintance, after Monday's incident. That evening, police arrested Joshua Bynum, 16, on charges of sexual battery and kidnapping. Police say his statements were inconsistent and were refuted by a medical test.

He will not be returning to the North Tampa school, principal Thomas Morrill told students over the intercom Tuesday.

Several students say they're still scared.

"Especially as a woman," said Erin Helmick, 16.

A group of teens walking home from school Tuesday said they've never felt completely safe at Chamberlain, but their fears were previously aimed at outsiders. Bynum was supposed to be there.

"We need more cops," said Yessenia Vazquez, 17.

"And cameras," said her friend Mariah Hernandez, 17.

And maybe a buddy system, suggested Lynn Johnson, the mother of a freshman.

She received a recorded phone message sent to Chamberlain parents Tuesday. In it, principal Morrill says a student has been arrested on a sexual battery charge. He assures parents their children's safety is a priority.

"I was shocked," Johnson said. "I felt so bad for the girl."

The incident happened in a boy's restroom near the gym, which is at the end of a hallway and next to the stadium. Police say they're interviewing potential witnesses and ask anyone who may have seen anything to contact the school's resource officer.

After Monday's incident, Chamberlain officials plan to limit hall passes to emergencies. Other measures might come later, after school authorities meet with Tampa police, said district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe.

Chamberlain, like most schools in Hillsborough County, does not have surveillance cameras. There's a school resource officer, but no one is assigned to monitor halls between class, Cobbe said.

"It's a matter of resources," she said. "Teachers need to be in class during class time."

The problem with a buddy system, Cobbe said, is that students should be inside classrooms, learning. Officials want to limit the number of teens walking the halls during class.

Hillsborough County School Board member Candy Olson said it's difficult to ensure all students are safe all of the time.

"Always, when something like this happens, as board members we ask ourselves, 'What could have been done better?' " she said. "And we always know there is no easy answer."

Bynum was taken to the Juvenile Assessment Center on Monday. His father, Freddie Mitchell, said his son told detectives the sex was consensual.

Police say evidence and interviews show otherwise.

The girl's version of events remained consistent and was corroborated by the medical exam, said Tampa police spokeswoman Laura McElroy.

Bynum, on the other hand, first told detectives he had no contact with the girl. He changed his story later, McElroy said, telling police the pair had consensual oral sex.

However, the medical test indicated there was intercourse, police said.

Bynum has a disciplinary history with the district. Last year, he was charged with assault on a law enforcement officer. A police report states that Bynum got in a fight with a fellow student at Sligh Middle School and threatened the school officer who intervened.

The charge was later dropped, state records show.

Times staff writer Marlene Sokol and news researcher John Martin contributed to this report.

Tampa police: Teen rapes fellow student inside Chamberlain High School 10/04/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 4, 2011 9:38pm]
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