‘Vile’: 6 Massachusetts eighth graders charged for setting up ‘mock slave auction’ on Snapchat

SOUTHWICK, Mass. — Six eighth graders have been criminally charged for their alleged roles in using Snapchat to set up a “mock slave auction” and direct hateful and racist comments towards Black students, the district attorney said Thursday.

The students, whose names were not released because they are juveniles, are reportedly 13 and 14 years old.

All six juveniles were charged with threats to commit a crime, Hampden District Attorney Anthony Gulluni said. Two of the juveniles were also charged with interference with civil rights, and one of those juveniles is also facing an additional charge of witness interference.

The middle school students were charged “for their alleged roles in facilitating and participating in hateful racist online chat that included heinous language, threats and a mock slave auction,” Gulluni said.

State police detectives assigned to his office began investigating last month after learning of the allegations, Gulluni said.

Late in the evening of Feb. 8 and into the early morning of Feb. 9, multiple juveniles took part in a group chat on Snapchat that was created by eighth grade students in Southwick, Gulluni said.

An investigation found that “several students uttered hateful and racist comments including notions of violence toward people of color, racial slurs, derogatory pictures and videos and a mock slave auction directed at two juveniles known to them,” Gulluni said.

The group chat and subject matter were reported to school officials on Feb. 9. On Monday, Feb. 12, school officials suspended several students from school ”as an emergency removal per state law,” Gulluni said.

On Feb. 15 and Feb. 16, several students were formally suspended by the Southwick public school system, he said. Two of those students were suspended for 25 days, and another student for 45 days.

The district attorney said he aims to hold the teens accountable for their actions.

“Hatred and racism have no place in this community and where this behavior becomes criminal, I will ensure that we act, and act with swift resolve, as we did here to uncover it and bring it to the light of justice,” Gulluni said.

He called their alleged actions “vile.”

“There is no question that the alleged behavior in this case of these six juveniles is vile, cruel and contemptible,” Gulluni said. “Seeing it and facing the reality that these thoughts, that this ugliness, can exist within middle school students, here in this community in 2024, is discouraging, unsettling and deeply frustrating.”

In a letter to Gulluni, Allyson Lopez, the mother of one of the alleged victims, commended the district attorney for a “diligent investigation” that resulted in charges against the six teens.

“Your dedication to upholding justice in our community is commendable and provides a glimmer of hope amidst the darkness of this traumatic incident,” Lopez wrote in her letter.

“As we grapple with the profound negative effects of these events, it becomes increasingly clear that they are not isolated incidents but symptomatic of deeper issues within our society,” Lopez wrote. “In particular, I feel compelled to express my continued dissatisfaction with the Southwick-Tolland-Granville School District’s response to issues of racism. It is evident that they have failed miserably in the past to adequately address and confront these issues, allowing them to fester and culminate in the abhorrent behavior we have witnessed.”

“Moving forward, it is imperative that both the School District and the parents of those prosecuted take a long, hard look at how they have contributed to the environment that enabled these expressions of racial hatred to flourish,” Lopez wrote. “Only through reflection, accountability, and proactive measures to address systemic racism can we hope to prevent similar tragedies in the future.”

Southwick is a small town in western Massachusetts, southwest of Springfield. The town’s population was 9,232 at the 2020 census.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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