Months after a local high school football player was allegedly beaten savagely by four of his teammates, the city of Blue Earth is still reeling.
Public officials in the southern Minnesota town of 3,400 residents near the Iowa border don’t want to talk about what happened. Community members fear for their jobs if they take sides.
Meanwhile, in an interview last week, the father of the 16-year-old victim said that his family is leaving Blue Earth for good and moving out of state.
“My kid was a victim,” Dale Hurley said by phone as he drove to a job interview in Nebraska. “My son is a victim of an assault, I don’t care how you slice it. And here we have to move away from his home to be safe.
“I’m pissed. Really pissed.”
Many in town were stunned in November after learning that four Blue Earth Area football players were being charged with criminal felonies in the alleged assault on their teammate after the team’s final regular-season game a month earlier. The four attackers allegedly beat their victim unconscious at a house party, filmed the attack on a cellphone and showed it to him the next day, according to court records. They also showed it to other students and team members.
The victim suffered a concussion and missed several weeks of school. When he returned, his father said, some students harassed and mocked him over the incident, while some of his assailants followed him around in an attempt to intimidate him.
Tonya Hurley, the victim’s mother, took a leave of absence from her job as a paraprofessional at a local school. With their son at the center of a major scandal involving the school district, it was just too awkward to remain in town, Dale Hurley said.
Adding to the family’s difficulties — the house party where Hurley’s son was beaten took place at the home of Dale Hurley’s boss.
“It’s been impossible to work with her,” he said of his supervisor. “She and I had words. It has made work very uncomfortable.”
A relative of a boy at the party who wasn’t charged in the case followed Dale Hurley home recently and “asked me if I know what I’m doing,” Dale Hurley said. “I said ‘I do.’ And he said, ‘I don’t think you do.’
“And then he asked me if I had an attorney. Just a bulldog attempt to intimidate me.”
In a small, tight-knit community the size of Blue Earth, those intersecting relationships are everywhere, which has made the situation even more complicated.
Four school board members declined to address the issue last week — two didn’t return repeated calls, and two others said they didn’t want to comment. A City Council member also didn’t return repeated calls.
Other community members also declined to discuss the incident, fearing for their jobs or the jobs of family members.
The parents of the alleged attackers, meanwhile, have made public pleas for leniency for their sons.
At a school board meeting earlier this month, the parents of three of the students facing charges complained that their sons were being treated too harshly by the school district in the wake of the attack. The alleged attackers were suspended from school for 10 days and barred from playing sports.
Mayor Rick Scholtes said last week that the best thing for everyone would be to leave Blue Earth alone to deal with the issues itself.
“The articles you guys are writing are making it worse,” he told a reporter. “Because as a community, we’re trying to heal and put this behind us. That’s how I feel and that’s how I think it’s affected the community.
“We just need to let it work its course and be done.”
Scholtes said Blue Earth is being unfairly scrutinized for events that have probably played out in other communities, as well.
“To me, these things happen everywhere, probably, and why are we being singled out?” he asked. “The negative publicity is hurting our community more than anything, and it drives a spike between both sides.
“For me, you have a few kids who made wrong choices, but the rest of the community is still a great place to live.”
Not for the Hurleys, who are reluctantly uprooting themselves from a place that they say always felt like home.
“This has approached a new level of low,” Dale Hurley said. “I get so angry sometimes. I’ve been quiet because I didn’t want to get fired from my job before I had another one.
“But it’s insane the mess it’s caused for us.”