Seven Sayreville War Memorial High School students have been arrested on sexual assault and other charges in a series of alleged hazing incidents last month, prosecutors say.
Prosecutors in New Jersey announced last week they were investigating allegations that upperclassmen on the top regionally ranked Sayreville High School football team were hazing freshmen players in ways that could be considered sexual assault.
On Friday, the Middlesex County prosecutor announced charges against seven Sayreville students, ages 15 to 17. They're accused of forcefully holding the younger students while others improperly touched them, and in one case, kicking one victim during an attack.
Three of the students face aggravated sexual assault and other charges, including sexual contact, conspiracy, restraint and hazing for engaging in an act of sexual penetration, the prosecutor said.
The four other teens were charged with aggravated sexual assault, conspiracy, sexual contact, hazing and riot by participating in the attack of the remaining victims.
The alleged incidents happened between Sept. 19 and Sept. 29, according to the prosecutor. It's not clear how many victims there were.
Six of the seven students were detained Friday evening. The seventh turned himself in Saturday morning, prosecutors said.
The students were being held until a family court decides whether whether to release them back to their parents and guardians or to hold them at a detention facility until a court hearing.
School administrators decided last week to cancel the rest of the football season when their own investigation found enough evidence to substantiate the hazing claims. No single players were suspended at the time.
In a statement following the arrests Friday, the superintendent said the administration would continue to cooperate with the prosecutor's investigation.
The statement added that the administration has launched an investigation into all the school's athletic and extracurricular programs "in order to ensure that we take all steps necessary now and in the future to protect all our students."
Meanwhile, the Sayreville community is girding for life without football as it faced its first Friday without the Bombers playing at the stadium in Parlin.
The team has been a regional power, winning three sectional titles in the last four years, perennially qualifying for postseason play.
Residents describe the Sayreville borough as a hard-working, diverse place — "football-geared" but not football crazy. The Middlesex County borough of about 43,000 people is a great place to raise kids, which adds to the shock over the allegations, they say.
Cary Melendez, who has been living in Sayreville a few years, said football is particularly held in high regard by families that have children already playing.
"Everything revolves around getting the kids ready to play Bomber football," Melendez said outside her house Friday.
Friday evening at John F. Kennedy Memorial Park across the street from the school, Matt Norcross said football is a large part of the town's identity.
"Every football player gets hazed, but (what's rumored) goes way over the line," Norcross said. "If it is true, the people who did it should be prosecuted."
An anti-bullying rally has been scheduled for Sunday night in Kennedy Park.
Holly Emory, whose son plays on the football team, said parents have asked those attending not to wear Bombers gear so they don't "pour salt in the wound."