NEW: Teen's family says its is grateful for his return
All four suspects also face charges of aggravated battery, hate crimes, kidnapping
The four suspects charged in connection with a brutal attack on a special-needs teenager that was streamed on Facebook Live all pleaded not guilty Friday to charges including committing a hate crime.
Jordan Hill, 18; Tesfaye Cooper; 18; Brittany Covington, 18; and Tanishia Covington, 24, appeared in a Cook County, Illinois courtroom Friday. They have been held in jail without bond since their arrest last month.
Hill, Cooper and Brittany Covington also face charges of residential burglary. Hill also faces charges of possession of a stolen motor vehicle.
Video of the torture has stunned the country, not just because of the graphic abuse, but because of the comments made by some of the assailants.
“*F*ck Donald Trump!” one attacker shouted in the video. “F*ck white people!”
The teen was tied up for four or five hours, Cmdr. Kevin Duffin of the Chicago Police Department told reporters. The victim will recover from his injuries and is at home with his parents, police said.
The teen’s brother-in-law spoke briefly with reporters Thursday night.
“We’re so grateful for all the prayers and efforts that led to the safe return of our brother. We’re fully aware of the charges being brought against the offenders. At this time, we ask for continued prayers for all those involved, for our family’s privacy as we cope and heal,” David Boyd said, reading a statement.
Boyd said the teen is doing as well as can be expected. He told the media that everyone in the family has seen the video, but he didn’t comment further on it.
Duffin said the department sought hate crime charges because of the victim’s diminished mental capacity, the fact that the four suspects tied him up and the racial epithets heard on the video. The victim apparently is white; the suspects are African-American.
The suspects will appear in court Friday.
30 minutes of horror
Video of the attack shows the 18-year-old victim cowering in a corner of a room, tied up with his mouth bound in plastic. His eyes exude fear as his attackers get ready for their next act.
One assailant slashes his sweatshirt with a knife. The young woman streaming the abuse on Facebook Live repeatedly turns the camera back to herself.
An attacker then takes a knife to the victim’s head, carving a patch off his scalp.
For the next 25 minutes, the abuse continues for the world to see. The victim is repeatedly kicked and punched, but his screams are apparently ignored.
The young woman broadcasting the attack appears dismayed that she’s not getting more attention online.
The victim’s parents dropped him off at a McDonald’s in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg on Saturday, December 31, to meet a friend.
Debate over ‘Black Lives Matter’
But on Thursday, police said they have not seen any connection to the Black Lives Matter activist group, contrary to some reports on social media.
Neither the Black Lives Matter national organization nor its Chicago chapter responded to CNN’s request for comment Thursday.
But DeRay Mckesson, a prominent Black Lives Matter supporter, said those linking the attack to the movement don’t have their facts straight.
“It goes without saying that the actions being branded by the far-right as the ‘BLM Kidnapping’ have nothing to do w/ the movement,” he tweeted.
A former Chicago police officer, Dimitri Roberts, slammed the notion that the Black Lives Matter movement is to blame.
“This is hate. And hate doesn’t have a color,” Roberts said. “So for folks to talk about this is somehow connected to Black Lives Matter is absolutely the wrong way to look at this. … And we cannot respond to hate with hate. It’s just going to perpetuate the cycle.”
President Barack Obama said the Facebook live torture video is “despicable,” suggesting to CNN affiliate WBBM it was a hate crime.
“What we have seen as surfacing, I think, are a lot of problems that have been there a long time,” said Obama, a longtime resident of Chicago. “Whether it’s tensions between police and communities, hate crimes of the despicable sort that has just now recently surfaced on Facebook.”
“The good news is that the next generation that’s coming behind us … have smarter, better, more thoughtful attitudes about race,” Obama said.
What constitutes a hate crime
According to the city of Chicago’s website, “Hate crimes are acts of bigotry, and are committed because of the intended victim’s actual or perceived ancestry, color, creed, gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, physical or mental disability (including HIV status), or national origin. Hate crimes not only harm the victim, but also the group in which the targeted member belongs.”
And according to Illinois law, hate can be considered an aggravating factor in a criminal charge and can result in a more severe sentence.
The assailants made a wide array of statements in the video, including repeated references to Donald Trump, white people in general and the victim’s appearance.
Hate crime charges under consideration
The victim’s parents reported him missing Monday, telling police they had not heard from their son since dropping him off Saturday at a McDonald’s in the Chicago suburb of Schaumburg, about 20 miles from their home in Crystal Lake.
The victim was supposed to spend New Year’s Eve with Hill, who picked the teen up in a stolen van, Duffin said.
Hill drove the teen around for several days in the van – they apparently spent at least one night in the vehicle – before they went to the Covingtons’ apartment in Chicago. Police said Hill and the teen were acquaintances who knew each other from school.