The five had already handcuffed and robbed the autistic teenager, stuck a gun in his face and threatened to kill him and his family, the charges say.
Only after that, when they allegedly marched him to the bottom of a hill in St. Paul's Conway neighborhood and took turns socking him in the stomach, did the terrified 16-year-old, betrayed and beaten by people he thought wanted to be his friends, start to cry.
And that was only halfway through the robbery and beating endured by the teenager, identified in court papers only as C.M., and before he was shot twice in the head with a BB gun.
Three adults and two teenagers were charged late last week with felony kidnapping and first-degree aggravated robbery in the Dec. 23 attack on the teen, who was walking to a store when he was allegedly lured into the group by one of the teenagers, who asked him to "hang out."
Tiffany Ann Clock, 21, and Anthony Martin Ramos, 24, both of Columbia Heights, and Trenton Eugene Johnson, 22, of St. Paul, remained in the Ramsey County jail Saturday in lieu of $100,000 bail. All are scheduled for court appearances later this month. The younger suspects, whose names were not released because they are juveniles, are to appear in court Tuesday.
"What makes this [crime] so outrageous is the nature of it -- the callousness to pick on a vulnerable person like this," Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, whose office will prosecute the case, said Saturday. "They basically ambushed him."
The charges do not say whether the suspects knew the victim was autistic or whether it was the reason he was targeted. Choi said he does not think the case will be prosecuted as a hate crime, but said it will be pursued "vigorously."
The attack on the vulnerable teenager also horrified an advocate for Minnesotans with autism, who said on Saturday that the victim's emotional scars are likely to outlast his physical ones.
"I can't help but think that this was his comfort zone," said Sherrie Kenny, executive director and CEO of the Autism Society of Minnesota. "He probably knew that library and knew that rec center, and thought he was making new friends. The vulnerability is that they don't sense any immediate risk or danger, and this young man thought he had a new friend."
According to the charges, the teenager was on his way to Cub Foods at the Sun Ray Shopping Center when he ran into the 16-year-old suspect, who asked him to hang out. He agreed, and the two met up with the rest of the suspects.
The group led him up the hill behind the St. Paul Public Library's Sun Ray branch. There, they closed in, allegedly demanding his money and taking his belongings, including a CD player, camera and cell phone.
They even took his bottle of ginger ale before they shoved him to the ground and rifled his pockets as Ramos pointed the BB gun at him, according to the charges.
After they punched him in the stomach, they ordered him to sit against the wall, where Ramos allegedly stood over him and fired the BB gun at his head from close range, the charges said. Until he was shot, the victim thought that the BB gun was a real one and that he would be killed.
Finally, the teen was let go. The boy returned home with goose-egg-size bruises on his face, his hat soaked in blood.
The five suspects were arrested after the victim's family identified one as the teen who lured the victim into the robbery. That teen was questioned and named the other suspects, who were arrested Jan. 13.
The charges say that all five suspects admitted to some involvement in the incident and also admitted that they had handcuffed the boy and made him run around in the snow.
The victim was "very scared," Johnson told police.
A similar attack
The robbery and assault was reminiscent of the October 2008 case of Justin Hamilton, 27, who over two consecutive nights was kidnapped by a group of five people and beaten, kicked, hit with objects and burned in rural Dakota County. Hamilton, who was born with fetal alcohol syndrome, suffered broken ribs, among other injuries, and was terrified after the attack, his mother said. Each of his five assailants received prison sentences; the ringleaders got eight and 10-year sentences.
If convicted, the adult suspects in the latest case could face up to 20 years in prison on each count.
The victim, according to charges, "presents as a younger child but was able to explain what happened to him clearly."
Kenny said that because the teen was walking to the store alone, he likely had been granted some independence. Teenagers on the autism spectrum tend to think in black and white, with no shades of gray, and it may take longer for them to detect danger, she said. They're taught to avoid risk or danger that takes the form of taunting or threats, but in this case the group targeted the teen and pretended to befriend him, she said.
"That's what will be interesting to watch here -- how justice will come about, and will they recognize that there was a lot of vulnerability here, and those that committed the violence, at what point did they know it?" Kenny said. "They had a decision to make. This poor kid didn't -- he couldn't make a decision. He made it the minute another person befriended him."
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921