Eight teenagers were arrested Tuesday on murder charges in connection with the death of a 17-year-old boy who was beaten by a mob outside his Las Vegas high school this month, according to authorities.
Las Vegas police homicide Lt. Jason Johansson said at a news conference that the eight teen suspects – who are between the ages of 13 and 17 and have not been publicly identified – were part of a group of at least 10 people who brutally assaulted Jonathan Lewis Jr. in an alley near Rancho High School on Nov. 1. The fight, which had been prearranged by the parties involved, was over stolen headphones and possibly a stolen marijuana vape pen that belonged to either Lewis or his friend, Johansson said.
Lewis was hospitalized with what doctors described as “non-survivable head trauma” and died about a week later. The Clark County Medical Examiner’s Office concluded that the 17-year-old died from blunt-force trauma and classified his death as a homicide.
A brief video of the mob beating that spread on social media shows Lewis punching someone before a mob of teens attacked him. Johansson told reporters that the video of the attack shows a “void of humanity.”
“The minute the punch is thrown with that person, 10 subjects immediately swarm (Lewis), pull him to the ground and begin kicking, punching and stomping on him,” Johansson said.
Eight teens were arrested on Tuesday morning with the help of FBI agents, according to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. The eight suspects were booked on charges of suspicion of murder, Undersheriff Andrew Walsh said. Authorities are working to identify at least two other people believed to have been involved in the attack, Johansson said.
Police are pushing for the district attorney’s office to charge the teens as adults, Johansson said. If a 16-year-old or 17-year-old is charged with murder in Nevada, the case is moved to the adult system as part of a process called certification, state law says.
Nevada judges can certify minors older than 14 as adults for felony offenses, including murder, but that’s not a given. Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that two of the arrested teens are 16 or older.
If they are charged and convicted of murder in Nevada, the teens could each face a minimum of 25 years in prison, according to state law.
Lewis’s family did not immediately respond to a request for comment early Wednesday. The family wrote on a memorial website that their son “was a hero who tried to help a smaller child who was being bullied and 15 people attacked him in cowardly violence and our beloved son was beaten to death!” Police have not indicated whether 15 people were involved in the attack.
“We can’t release any other information yet except to say that we denounce violence as a means to resolve sociological conflict, we believe community members can coexist peacefully, and we love our son and all children with all our hearts!” the family wrote on the GoFundMe page it set up to start a foundation in their son’s name.
The fight took place in the afternoon of Nov. 1 near Rancho High School, about seven miles northeast of the Las Vegas Strip. Lewis’s friend had agreed to a fight in an alley after school following incidents earlier in the week when his wireless headphones and possibly vape pen were stolen, Johansson said. But as the teens squared off, Lewis stepped in to defend his friend, according to police.
After Lewis took a swing, video shows teens “kicking, stomping and punching our victim Jonathan as he’s on the ground, not defending himself” until he’s unconscious, Johansson said. The 14-second video shared on social media shows a mob of teens beating Lewis as others looked on.
“Oh my God,” one person says with a laugh, according to video.
When the teens ran away, Lewis was carried by a person at the scene back to the high school, where staff performed CPR, police said. Authorities responded at about 2:05 p.m., and Lewis was taken to University Medical Center of Southern Nevada.
The 17-year-old died on Nov. 7.
At Tuesday’s news conference, Johansson was asked whether authorities were investigating the incident as a possible hate crime since Lewis was White and most of the teens involved in the mob are Black. Police indicated they do not believe it was a hate crime.
“Right now, I have no evidence at all that this is a hate crime,” Johansson said. “It is a murder, which in my opinion is a very heinous crime in and of itself, but I do not have evidence of a hate crime.”
Jonathan Lewis Sr., 38, of Austin, told the Review-Journal that he was relieved arrests have been made in his son’s death.
“I’m calling on the youth to use their collective voice to demand change, create a deep sense of community, and do something with your power instead of enslaving yourselves to anger, rage, and cowardly violence,” he said in a text message.
Walsh, the undersheriff, urged parents not to “put your head in the sand” and said they should assume that their kids have seen the video.
“Please talk with your kids about it and explain – people need to know right from wrong and that this act was heinous,” he said. When asked about the suspects and the fatal beating, Walsh said, “Their actions have life-altering consequences.”