A judge said the assault of an 18-year-old special-needs student by Juanita High School football players in 2014 was part of a culture of hazing.

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The text message from a Juanita High School football player to his freshman teammate was ominous. They were “gonna jubie” an 18-year-old special-needs student in the locker-room showers.

Within minutes, what the term meant became all too clear. The 18-year-old, a volunteer manager with the football team, was being held on the shower floor by a group of 14- and 15-year-old players, his pants and underwear yanked down as he was jabbed at with a broomstick.

Older students at the Kirkland school intervened, and the victim was pulled away in tears. A half-hour after the initial text, the same football player — who filmed the Oct. 22 incident with his cellphone but later erased the footage — sent a follow-up message.

Anti-hazing resources

• safesport.org

• stophazing.org

• hazingprevention.org

“I feel so bad now,’’ he wrote.

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Those texts, police interviews and eyewitness accounts led to five players being charged with attempted rape. The texts also point toward what some describe as a football hazing culture that adults at the school helped foster.

Three of the five teens in late August pleaded guilty to reduced charges of felony third-degree assault. Two have pleaded not guilty, with one scheduled for trial in October. The other’s trial date has not been set.

In sentencing the three teens Aug. 31 to 12 months of community supervision, 48 hours of community service and other conditions and restrictions, Youth Court Judge John Erlick suggested that the perpetrators are also victims of a culture of hazing at Juanita.

“I think this is a horrific crime,’’ Erlick said. “I think (the victim) has been both physically and emotionally violated. And I have to look at this crime in the context of a culture. And I call it a culture, because from what I read in the submissions, not only were these young men perpetrators, but to some extent they were also victims.’’

Erlick reached his conclusions after reading statements and notes from the accused and witnesses, as well as school documents obtained with a search warrant in January. Most are sealed under juvenile privacy laws, but two sources familiar with the submissions told The Seattle Times they included information that two and possibly three of the accused had themselves been similarly hazed.

Erlick indicated as much in court.

“It doesn’t justify it,’’ he said. “And this needs to put an end to that.’’

The Times does not generally publish the names of victims or juveniles facing charges.

Stories nationwide

The origins of “jubie” — which witnesses told police referred to the threat of sodomizing someone using a finger or object — are unclear.

Similar stories about hazing in high-school football programs have surfaced nationwide. Criminal investigations, some resulting in charges, were launched after broomstick-hazing at schools in Long Island, N.Y., in 2004, New Mexico in 2008, Vermont in 2011 and 2012, South Carolina in 2013 and New Jersey last year.

In a case that made national headlines in 2014, seven players from Sayreville, N.J., ages 15 to 17, were charged with aggravated sexual assault for hazing.

The Lake Washington School District last year hired an outside investigator to look into the Juanita case and cleared head football coach Shaun Tarantola and assistant LeLe Te’o of culpability. Te’o is now the team’s head coach, after Tarantola took an offensive-coordinator job at Mission High School in Texas this year.

Te’o did not return calls.

Tarantola said in an interview he’d never heard of any hazing ritual until after the arrests.

“That right there is a shock to me,’’ he said of the judge’s comments about a hazing culture. “If that was the case … I don’t know when this culture started or where it took place.’’

Kathryn Reith, a spokeswoman for the school district, said she is limited in responding to the judge’s comments because of the pending cases and privacy issues. But she issued a statement that a broader district review of the school’s athletic program, which included interviewing student-athletes, found no hazing culture.

“The athletic program review showed that this incident does not define Juanita High School as a whole or even the athletic experience at that school,’’ the statement says.

Reith said additional safety and supervision protocols have since been implemented at Juanita and other Lake Washington District schools.

Sports-team hazing has existed for decades. A study of 2,027 college student-athletes by Alfred University in New York in 2000 found 80 percent were subjected to questionable or unacceptable activities as part of college hazing, with 42 percent saying they had experienced hazing in high school. Sixty percent of respondents said they wouldn’t report a hazing incident. Twenty-six percent of those said they didn’t believe administrators would handle the problem properly.

Mary Ellen Stone, executive director of the nonprofit King County Sexual Assault Resource Center, takes issue with Judge Erlick describing the accused as victims in the Juanita case. Stone, whose group served as a judicial advocate for the 18-year-old victim, says it’s important not to minimize blame.

“This incident at Juanita High School is egregious but not unique to that school,’’ she said. “And we encourage coaches, teachers and administrators to use education, speaking out against sexual violence and discouraging bystanding to counter this culture that exists in sports.’’

Earlier incident alleged

The Juanita Rebels have begun a new football season, with the varsity team’s record now 1-1. But for many, last year’s scandal lingers.

The victim, now 19, remains in school but no longer volunteers with the football team. He is cognitively delayed, with physical impairments, according to documents filed last November for a protection order sought by his aunt (and legal guardian) against the five accused. The aunt wrote that without the order, her nephew “will continue to feel unsafe and threatened in the school environment and greater community.’’

The players, who were barred from contacting the victim, were expelled and prevented from returning to Juanita High School.

In his guilty plea, the broomstick-wielding teen described “a prank” gone too far. His lawyer said the teens were friends with the victim and “clowning around” with no intent to rape. The teens and victim had playfully thrown tennis balls and ice cubes at one another earlier.

Erlick said in court that hazing of the accused included threats with a broomstick, but not penetration.

Parents of the accused say their sons continue to be called “rapists” at sports and social events. They say they have struggled with legal bills, stress from the criminal cases and community ostracism. The parents agree things went too far but believe their sons have been labeled as sexual predators so school officials can duck responsibility.

The sealed statements given to the judge, according to two sources familiar with the documents, indicated that the five accused had attended a team football retreat in July 2014 — three months before the shower incident — and saw a Juanita sophomore targeted in a hazing attempt. The three-day retreat, which took place at Camp Casey on Whidbey Island, promised “team building activities” for players, according to a school website.

Former coach Tarantola, who attended the retreat, said he told a school district investigator that he hadn’t heard of an incident at the retreat. But he told The Times that after resigning his coaching position in May, he called the sophomore into his office to ask about rumors that he had been targeted. Tarantola said the player said he was sleeping in his bunk bed when “a couple of people tried to grab him. And that’s when he used the term ‘jubie.’ ’’

The sophomore told the coach the attackers tried to sexually assault him, but he fought them off in the dark.

Tarantola said he didn’t share the new information because he assumed it had already been covered as part of the district’s investigation. He said another teacher initially told him about it, so he assumed other staffers were aware.

The legal guardian of one sentenced player mentioned the alleged incident at the retreat in a Sept. 1 letter to the school district, which was obtained by The Times.

“In the course of the case, we learned that this act was so common it happened to several boys, not only during the fall season but at summer football camp last year,’’ the letter said.

The letter questioned why coaches and the school’s principal and athletic director were not held accountable for inadequate supervision and allowing a “culture of sodomy’’ to exist.

“This behavior was learned at Juanita,’’ the guardian wrote. “It was accepted among students and, since it had never been punished, it was fostered by adults.’’

School district spokeswoman Reith said the camp was organized by the Rebels’ booster club and not the school. She said she couldn’t disclose what the district’s investigation learned about the incident or confirm it was even explored.

The booster club, responding to a Times email, said in an unsigned email it “is not aware of any incidents, nor have we been approached by any investigators.’’

Mary Farley, the club’s president in 2014-15, wrote a separate email stating she had not heard of “jubie” before the arrests.

What did school know?

Questions remain about whether school officials had sufficient details to immediately report the October shower incident to police. Instead, Juanita’s athletic director, Steve Juzeler, phoned the victim’s aunt that night and told her of an incident but had few specifics.

The aunt had seen her nephew crying in his room. After the phone call, she questioned him and then phoned police.

“What they (the teens) did was wrong,’’ she said in a brief interview. “When you hear about something like that, you have to call police right away. I wasn’t going to wait for the school to do it.’’

She declined further comment.

Juzeler said he didn’t know the full extent of what had happened to the victim when he first phoned the aunt. Juzeler declined further comment, saying he has been advised to let the school district handle all media inquiries.

Juanita Principal Gary Moed did not return calls.

Judge Erlick said in court that the way to eliminate hazing is by reporting it to authorities.

“For too long, society has tolerated or turned its back on what’s referred to as hazing or pranks or bullying or ‘boys being boys,’ ’’ he said. “We now recognize the profound and traumatic effect that this has on victims and victims’ families and on the community as a whole.

“We cannot tolerate this any longer.’’

Information in this article, originally published Sept. 15, 2015, was corrected Sept. 16, 2015. A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center counseled the 18-year-old victim of a 2014 football hazing incident at Juanita High School. The group served as a judicial advocate for him.