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District Attorney files charges against teens in racially motivated SEPTA attack

The four attackers, whose names haven’t been released, are ages 13 to 16.

Travelers are shown at the South City Hall station are shown on the Broad Street Line earlier this year.
Travelers are shown at the South City Hall station are shown on the Broad Street Line earlier this year.Read moreJOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer

The District Attorney’s Office on Thursday charged four teen attackers with multiple crimes for what SEPTA Police claim was a racially motivated attack on the Broad Street Line, which was captured on video Wednesday.

SEPTA Police Chief Thomas Nestel III said Thursday authorities were able to identify the four suspects through the transit system’s network of 28,000 cameras, a slew of public tips, and a parent who reported their own child as someone involved in the incident.

» READ MORE: Police, city human relations commission investigating attack on SEPTA train

Hours after the attack, the District Attorney’s Office charged each of the four teenagers, whose ages range from 13 to 16, with aggravated assault, ethnic intimidation, criminal conspiracy, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person and disorderly conduct, an office spokesperson said. One of the alleged attackers was also charged with robbery for trying to steal one of the victim’s Airpods.

Nestel previously said there was no sign that the victims provoked the attackers in any way. SEPTA police have been in touch with the suspects’ families, he said.

According to the transit agency, the attack took place around 3:30 p.m. near the Erie Station on the Broad Street Line while the train was in transit.

In a video, which was later posted on social media, a group of Black girls is seen yelling at a teenager, whom the Philadelphia School District said was a Central High School student.

Nestel said the suspects were yelling at a total of three teenagers, all Asian students from Central, when a fourth teen stepped in to defend her peers.

The attackers turned their attention to the fourth teen, banging her head against the subway doors and continuing to hit her as she lay on the train floor. Nestel said she sought SEPTA police help at around 3:45.

“She was a hero, she stepped up and told the girls to stop,” said Nestel of the fourth Central teen who intervened. She suffered no serious injuries. “Then she became a target.”

According to the School District, Central High School principal Tim McKenna met with parents and community members to address concerns Thursday morning. Representatives from the Office of Student Support have also been made available to students feeling anxious because of the incident.

Philadelphia school officials say School District police are working with the Philadelphia Police, SEPTA’s transit police, and the Philadelphia Human Relations Commission, which helps investigate incidents of racial conflict.

Since March 2020, members of the Asian community have reported a rise in verbal and physical harassment in the Philadelphia region, mirroring national reports. Victims described being falsely blamed for the COVID-19 pandemic.

The region burst into protests this spring after a white man killed eight people in the Atlanta area, including six women of Asian descent. Members of the Asian community and supporters called attention to how reports of anti-Asian American hate had tripled in 2020 from the previous year.

» READ MORE: Philly Asian Americans have experienced a year of hateful acts, and fear it’s going to get even worse

According to Stop AAPI Hate, a group that has been tracking hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, there have been more than 10,300 hate incidents against the AAPI community across the United States between March 2020 and September 2021.

In response to this week’s incident, SEPTA police were launching a service starting Thursday that allows students taking the Broad Street Line to ride a designated subway car with a police presence.

SEPTA officials said they tried this type of escort program at least once before. In that instance, students avoided the escorted car. Should the service prove popular this time around, SEPTA officials said the agency would consider expanding the program.