GJR CEO: Alleged attack not gang-related

Herald FileThe front entry and sign at George Junior Republic in Pine Township.

PINE TOWNSHIP — The chief executive officer of George Junior Republic cast doubt on a state police report that a May 3 incident between where one resident teen stabbed another was fueled by a gang rivalry.

In a criminal complaint, state police said George Garzon-Lagos, 17, of Georgetown, Del., attacked a 15-year-old boy with a handmade weapon, over gang affiliation. A police report issued on Monday alleged gang activity and described how the victim was stabbed with two shanks.

Garzon-Lagos, who is being prosecuted as an adult in the case, and the victim were both residents of George Junior Republic, a residential school for at risk youth.

Nathan Gressel, George Junior's CEO, said that potential residents are screened and vetted to ensure that they have no gang affiliation. Youth who are found to being involved in gang activity are not accepted at George Junior, which provides education, behavioral health, a GED program and other services.

There are currently about 200 youth on campus.

While it's common for youth in congregant care to "pick sides," Gressel said he has not heard of any current residents being in a gang.

Garzon-Lagos, who is in Mercer County Jail, told a campus supervisor at George Junior that he's a member of the Mexican Mafia, a rival of the Crip gang, police said in the criminal complaint.

Police said the victim, whose injuries were treated on-site, claimed he was a member of the Crip gang.

He is in Mercer County Jail on $50,000 bond following a May 8 arraignment before District Judge Dennis M. Songer, Sharon.

Garzon-Lagos was charged May 8 by state police with aggravated assault, assault by prisoner on another, inmate procuring, making or possessing a weapon, and simple assault.

His preliminary hearing is set for 10:45 a.m. May 19 with District Judge D. Neil McEwen, Pine Township.

Gressel said he wanted to clarify allegations in he charges because the offense titles could mislead to those not familiar with the facility. George Junior residents are not "prisoners" or "inmates." Such characterizations create a misperception of the residents, he said.

As with other school settings, Gressel said kids at George Junior get into fights. When that happens, the school has policies and procedures, which employees followed during the May 3 incident.

"The staff did everything they were trained to do," Gressel said.

The two teens were being housed in the intensive supervision unit, which Gressel said is the highest level of restriction at George Junior. The unit has three staff members for every 11 residents, and employees conduct regular screenings and searches.

The campus supervisor told police that he was called to the unit shortly after 5 p.m. May 3 and found Garzon-Lagos with staff members in the "quiet room," and the victim was being treated in his bedroom.

The supervisor called the main office for a metal detector, which is when Garzon-Lagos pulled the two shanks out of his waistband.

Garzon-Lagos had allegedly entered the other boy's bedroom with "two crafted shank devices" with "crudely fashioned handles with sharpened metal points," police said.

One appeared to be stained with blood, and both were turned over to police.

The younger boy was treated by campus medical staff for wounds to his face, side of his head and arms. The supervisor estimated he had been stabbed about 15 times.

The boy was bleeding profusely at first but refused hospital treatment, the supervisor told police.

Police contacted Mercer County District Attorney Peter C. Acker, who advised that Garzon-Lagos be charged as an adult.

School officials contacted police on May 8, and the police report indicates that officers didn't know why the staff hadn't contacted them sooner.

Gressel said that George Junior isn't trying to hide anything, and the staff handles a lot of incidents in-house. 

The younger boy, who is from Ohio, decided he wanted to press charges after consulting with his guardian. School officials then reported the incident to police.

George Junior residents typically aren't permitted to return to the school after such incidents, and Garzon-Lagos has been discharged from the facility, Gressel said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Suspects are to be considered innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.

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