November 19, 2001 at 7:20 PM EST - Updated July 1 at 8:40 AM
AKRON, Ohio (AP) - Police who investigated a high school girl's rape discovered that a gang of teen-agers had not only attacked her but also had been terrorizing a city neighborhood.
For a year and a half, police said, the gang that dubbed itself the T-Nots made the Copley Road and Wooster Avenue areas of west Akron their territory, committing more than 200 offenses.
Last July, police investigated the beating and rape of a 16-year-old girl in a field behind Buchtel High School. Prosecutors have made criminal cases since then against 17 members of the gang -- all between the ages of 13 and 16.
"They were out there stealing cars, selling drugs and committing rape," said Summit County Prosecutor Sherri Bevan Walsh. "It's unimaginable."
Walsh said it was "amazing how far reaching this case became."
Initially, police had no idea of the scope of the gang.
Sgt. Mike Zimmerman, who heads the Akron Police Department's gang unit, said the unit had begun investigating the T-Nots at the end of last year. But at the time, officers believed that the gang members were too young to be involved in serious crimes.
He said the gang unit now will look more closely at gangs even with young members.
"We will have to look at the younger kids just like we do at 18-, 19- and 20-year-olds," he said. "Age can't be a factor anymore."
The Akron Beacon Journal reported Monday that after the July 26 rape, police and prosecutors met to discuss the case. At that point, they decided to take a look at what else the T-Nots had done. Through interviews with suspects, witnesses and residents, they began to get a picture of a busy and dangerous group.
The newspaper reported the gang members dealt crack to raise cash. They broke into homes and businesses and stole money or goods that could be exchanged for money. The gang also committed armed robberies.
Greg Harrison, a police juvenile division detective, said the T-Nots had a core of about five leaders.
According to Harrison, the group established a "quasi-corporation," with board members who had to fight their way in, associate members who might act as lookouts and would-be members who had to battle with board members to gain entry.
The primary pool of candidates was at Perkins Technology Middle School. Using threats and the strength of the gang's reputation, the T-Nots effectively took over the school's student population, said Don Good, the Akron school district's gang intervention security specialist.
Harrison said that under a state law passed in 1999, it doesn't matter whether someone is a leader in the gang or just marginally involved to be prosecuted.
Akron has between 30 and 40 gangs, and police keep a database with the names of about 1,200 suspected gang members, according to the police department's gang unit.
(Copyright 2001 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)