CHICAGO (CBS) — An 18-year-old man was charged with predatory criminal sexual assault on Saturday, after authorities said he was seen sexually abusing a 7-year-old girl as she attended school remotely from a home in Chatham.
Catrell Walls, 18, was charged with predatory criminal sexual assault of a victim under 13 and appeared in bond court on Saturday, where bond was denied.
Police said around 1:30 p.m. Thursday, the girl performed a sex act on the man at a home in Chatham, and the abuse was streamed online during the remote learning session.
The Cook County State’s Attorney’s office said the girl attends school virtually through Google Meets, and she was signed onto her class’ lunch and independent study period – which was between 11:50 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. that day.
The victim’s teacher gives students the option to sign off and return later or to stay signed on – but in the latter case, students are asked to mute themselves and turn their cameras off, prosecutors said.
During this break, the girl joined Google Meets at 1:10 p.m., and put herself on mute as directed, but accidentally left her camera on, prosecutors said. There were four students signed on during the break period, prosecutors said.
The victim’s teacher was working on a different computer next to the one that had Google Meets running, prosecutors said. A few minutes later, she heard two students say: “What’s going on? What’s happening?” and she turned to the computer with Google Meets to see the girl performing a sex act on the suspect, prosecutors said.
The teacher told the other students to, “Log off, log off,” and then called the victim’s name, telling her to turn the camera off, prosecutors said. She saw the suspect pick up the computer and close it, prosecutors said.
The teacher went on to report the incident to the school’s principal, who in turn contacted her family, the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, and the police, prosecutors said.
The girl’s father arrived at the home with the principal and the school’s chief executive officer, and the girl’s father, grandmother, and aunt asked the girl what happened, prosecutors said.
The girl first said the man “just hit her,” and “it was a secret,” but then disclosed the abuse, prosecutors said. Walls was present and initially denied it, prosecutors said.
Meanwhile, the victim spoke with the principal away from the family and said Walls had made her perform a sex act on him, and that it had happened before, but, ““I don’t want my daddy to know… it’s a secret.”
The girl was taken to the hospital and was examined that by a sexual assault nurse examiner, while the suspect was arrested at the scene, prosecutors said.
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On Friday, the girl participated in a forensic interview and said Walls had been forcing her to perform sex acts on him since she was 6, prosecutors said. Walls waived his rights and admitted that the girl had performed sex acts on him, while repeatedly saying, “I don’t know why,” and crying and saying he was sorry, prosecutors said.
Walls is also charged with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon in an unrelated case, prosecutors said.
Stephanie Love-Patterson, executive director of Connections for Abused Women and Their Children, said Friday that she was “absolutely appalled” when she heard about the story of sexual abuse.
Unfortunately, it’s exactly the type of abuse that the she feared when she first learned about remote learning plans last spring.
“So many individuals don’t have the resources,” she said. “The risk of individuals of children being without someone that can be a voice for them like a teacher or a teacher’s aid or a principal.”
CBS 2 confirmed Friday that the 7-year-old victim was not a CPS student, but Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson echoed the CAWC’s concerns.
“There are fewer watchful eyes looking at students, connecting with student to make sure that they’re safe,” said Jackson.
Jackson pointed to a solution: an eventual return to in-person instruction.
“It just makes me even more committed to seeing our kids back in school under the watchful eye of their teachers who care for them deeply,” said Jackson.