The summer scene at a west Phoenix apartment complex was tranquil Wednesday evening. Parents and children chatted on their stoops as the sun set. They bought ice cream from a vendor's push cart.
One week ago, around the same time of day, residents of the complex were startled by the screams of a partially clothed 8-year-old girl who ran screaming from a storage shed at a vacant unit.
Phoenix police on Wednesday announced that they arrested four neighborhood boys in connection with the incident, in which investigators said the group lured the girl into the shed with chewing gum, held her down and sexually assaulted her.
Phoenix police Sgt. Andy Hill, a longtime public-information officer, described the case as "one of the worst crimes we have come across in Phoenix in quite some time," given the ages of the victim and the suspects, as well as the circumstances of the reported attack.
The girl and the four suspects are refugees from the war-torn West African country of Liberia, which, according to investigators, would complicate authenticating names and dates of birth.
Arizona Child Protective Services took custody of the girl after the July 16 incident at the apartment complex after her parents disowned her.
Hill said the parents blamed her for being victimized and bringing shame to the family.
CPS and the families could not be reached for comment.
Phoenix investigators are requesting that the oldest suspect, age 14, be prosecuted as an adult.
He and the three others - ages 9, 10 and 13 - were taken to a Maricopa County juvenile-detention center late Tuesday on charges of sexual assault. Three of the four boys also could be charged with kidnapping, according to police.
Each of the suspects admitted to the assault, according to investigators. Hill said three of the boys lived with their families at the complex.
He added that they "took turns" in the attack, the shed door opening as different boys entered.
Police said the victim knew her attackers, but they are unclear on how long the families lived in the complex or how long it had been since they fled Liberia.