By Ray Sanchez
(Reuters) - Connecticut school officials on Thursday were investigating online taunts against the alleged victim in a case of sexual assault involving high school athletes - a crime that has drawn comparisons to a prominent rape case in Steubenville, Ohio.
The arrest last month of two 18-year-old Torrington High School football players, Edgar Gonzalez and Joan Toribio, prompted taunts on social media against one of two 13-year-old girls who authorities said had been sexually assaulted.
Classmates took to Twitter to call the girl a snitch and accuse her of ruining the athletes' lives, according to The Register Citizen newspaper in Litchfield County.
Debrah Pollutro, an assistant to the schools superintendent, told Reuters the allegations of online bullying were being investigated, but declined further comment.
Torrington, a city of 36,000 people in the rolling hills of northwestern Connecticut's Litchfield County, is about 120 miles from New York City.
The Ohio rape case also involved two high school football players and the victim was bullied online by students and others who defended the school's football program. Two teenage girls were arrested earlier this week on charges of using social media to threaten the young victim in that high-profile case.
A 16-year-old girl was charged with aggravated menacing after using Twitter to threaten the life of the victim, Ohio authorities said. A 15-year-old girl was charged with one count of menacing in making a threat on Facebook.
In Steubenville, the hacker group Anonymous drew national attention to the case by distributing online video and photographs of the incapacitated girl and hacking private files related to the crime in an online campaign it dubbed #OpRollRedRoll. A Twitter account associated with the group hinted that it intends to do the same with the Torrington case.
"#OpRaider is the new #OpRollRedRoll," tweeted @YourAnonNews late Wednesday night, referring to the high school's mascot, the Red Raiders. "Torrington better take note of #Steubenville because they're about to go on blast. #endrapeculture"
Two teenage football players in Steubenville were found guilty on Sunday in the rape of a highly intoxicated 16-year-old girl at a party last summer.
In Torrington, the high school athletes were suspended from school after being charged with second-degree sexual assault and other charges. Police said a third suspect was arrested earlier this month.
A lawyer for Gonzalez, J. Patten Brown III, said his client was being held on $65,000 bail after pleading not guilty. He dismissed comparisons to the Steubenville case.
"There's no evidence of intoxication or drug use or filming," he said. "As far as the so-called Internet campaign … my client is in custody. It's impossible that he would have to do anything with it. Other than the fact that they were members of the football team, there's no similarity at all in my opinion."
Charles Brower, a lawyer for Toribio, declined comment.
State prosecutor Terri Sonnemann would not comment on the cases or the online taunts, saying: "It would be up to the police to conduct an investigation."
Vincent Mustaro, senior staff associate for policy at the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said school officials are required to take steps to stop online bullying but warned that "the school system cannot become, in fact, the Internet police."
"Clearly, the key point is, does it spill over into the school setting and therefore is potentially disruptive of the educational process," he said.
"That opens the door, so to speak, for the school to take some action. If it's being talked about in the school, if it affects students in the school, I would say it probably falls under the potential that it can be disruptive to the school setting."
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Gunna Dickson)
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