Teen Girls in SEPTA Attack Charged With Ethnic Intimidation

“This was an attack based on ethnicity and ethnic slurs were used by the attackers,” SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel said. “Hence, why we’re charging ethnic intimidation”

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What to Know

  • Four teens are accused of ethnic intimidation and other charges in what police say was a racial attack on a SEPTA subway.
  • The teens, who are all under 17, are Black and police say they targeted four Asian American students from Central High School on the Broad Street Line.
  • SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel III says video posted on social media showed the teens on Wednesday yelling at three students when a fourth stepped in and told them to stop. The suspects attacked her, banging her head against the subway doors and hitting her as she lay on the floor.

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Several teen girls who were caught on video attacking a group of Asian students on a SEPTA train in Philadelphia have now been charged with ethnic intimidation and other offenses.

On Thursday, the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office approved aggravated assault, ethnic intimidation, criminal conspiracy, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person and disorderly conduct charges against the four suspects, who are all under the age of 17.

One of the suspects was also charged with an additional count of robbery for trying to steal air pods from one of the victims, the District Attorney's Office said.

The incident occurred on a Broad Street Line train near SEPTA's Erie Station around 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. 

Video of the attack shows a group of teen girls repeatedly punching and screaming at another group of teens on the train. One of the attackers also punches, knocks over and repeatedly kicks a teen girl before slapping her with her shoe. NBC10 is not showing the video after a friend of the victim requested that we remove it due to its traumatic nature. 

A SEPTA spokesperson called the incident “violent and disturbing.” He also said no serious injuries were reported. 

The four attackers in the video are African American while the victims are of Asian descent and students at Central High School. During a press conference Thursday afternoon, SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel announced that they identified the suspects and requested ethnic intimidation and aggravated assault charges for all four of them.

“This was an attack based on ethnicity and ethnic slurs were used by the attackers,” Nestel said. “Hence, why we’re charging ethnic intimidation.”

SEPTA Police, Philadelphia Police, Philadelphia School Administration officials, School District Police and the Philadelphia Human Relations Commission were all involved in the investigation. 

Four teenage girls who were captured on video attacking several Asian students on a SEPTA train will likely face ethnic intimidation charges. NBC10's Brian Sheehan spoke with the mother of one of the suspects who reporter her 12-year-old daughter to police. She apologized to the victims and their family members.

Nestel also said the mother of one of the suspects reached out to them.

"A mother called when she saw her daughter as one of the people involved in the assault and reported her daughter as being one of the attackers," Nestel said.

That woman, who we are not identifying, also spoke with NBC10.

“My daughter and her group were the full aggressors,” she said. “If the Asian children did anything, I would think that it was to protect themselves and that’s just what I got from the video.”

The woman apologized to the victims, calling her daughter’s actions inexcusable. 

“We’re all apologetic,” the girl’s mother said. “We are embarrassed, ashamed. It’s not who we represent.”

The woman said her daughter is 12-years-old and had been missing for two weeks after running away from home until she was placed in custody on Wednesday.

“I was extremely hurt and this is why I needed to meet with you guys publicly so that you know that my family is very sincerely apologetic about what happened to that child because we all pray that our children make it home safe from school,” she said. 

The woman told NBC10 she’s tried reaching out to the family members of the victims. 

“I want them to know you all don’t have to be afraid of us,” she said. “My daughter did not mean it. When she gets the opportunity to, she will give a sincere apology.”

Despite the ethnic intimidation charges, the girl’s mother told NBC10 she doesn’t believe her daughter’s actions were racially motivated. 

“As you can clearly see in the video, my daughter is Muslim,” she said. “We do not carry ourselves that way. We carry ourselves with respect, modesty and humility.”

In response to the video, Philadelphia City Councilman David Oh called on SEPTA and the Philadelphia School District to increase security measures.

"There has to be a response by the police, by SEPTA school safety officers, formerly known as school police, and by SEPTA itself," Oh said. "It has a police force and we need to see them."

Chief Nestel said they are now offering students at Central High School a safe ride home with a police officer in the aftermath of the attack.

"The benefit of this is the officer can start to get to know the kids because we'll have the same officer there and we'll have an officer on a train full of kids that's coming from Central and going to South Philly," he said. "That starts today."

Nestel said the officer will meet with students at SEPTA's Olney station each day.

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