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Mob attacks teen outside school

Victim calls it a case of mistaken identity

Ninth-grader Devante Gray strolled out of school Thursday with nothing more pressing than homework on the brain.

But within the hour, his brain would be getting scanned at the hospital, after about 25 kids attacked Devante, beating and kicking the 14-year-old into unconsciousness while a crowd of spectators and a school security guard watched but did not intervene.

Remarkably, Devante survived the savage ambush outside Communications Tech High School in Southwest Philadelphia with no broken bones or permanent injuries.

Yesterday, police Detective William Campbell said he expected to have Devante's attackers - most of whom wore Bartram High School uniforms - identified by Monday and behind bars by week's end.

Bartram is about two miles from Communications Tech.

While Campbell said he has not pinpointed a motive, Devante believes he was a victim of mistaken identity.

The boys who beat him had brawled with another student earlier Thursday. That student had been suspended and already removed from the school when Devante was attacked, Devante and district spokeswoman Felecia Ward said.

"I really don't have no problems with nobody in my school - everybody knows me," said Devante, who wants to be an engineer and is enrolled in Communications Tech's science engineering program.

Meanwhile, Devante accompanied his father to school district headquarters yesterday to demand a transfer and heightened security. The teen's bruised, swollen head made for a persuasive case. District officials have agreed to transfer him.

"Nobody's child deserves to be beat the way my son was beat, for just going to school," said Devante's father Arnett Woodall, who has four younger children. "Somebody's going to tell me why they beat my son. I know they better not bother my son again."

Woodall described his son as a good student with near-perfect attendance who works for a landscaping and construction business many nights and weekends.

But Thursday night everything was shelved so doctors at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia could evaluate him and bandage his wounds.

Ward said school assaults are down nearly 10 percent, with 1,016 assaults reported on school property so far this year, compared with 1,126 at the same time last year.

Still, she said the district will step up security at Bartram and Communications Tech, with additional school police officers and city police patrolling.

She defended the school officer who failed to intervene in Devante's beating, saying she is a veteran who did immediately call police for help and escorted Devante back into school afterward.

Communications Tech, at 81st Street and Lyons Avenue, is a school for students interested in careers in radio, television and information technology.

It was created as a separate school from Bartram in the 2003-04 school year as part of a school district plan to decrease the number of large, crowded high schools, Ward said.

The communications technology program had once been an "academy" program at Bartram, at 67th Street and Elmwood Avenue. While Bartram has just under 2,000 students, Communications Tech has fewer than 500 students, she added.

The ambush was at least the third violent incident involving Bartram students in the past two weeks.

Sixteen-year-old Tranere Mikell, a Bartram junior, was gunned down Nov. 19 at 65th and Wheeler streets in Southwest Philadelphia. Fifteen-year-old Antonio Q. Clarke, a Bartram sophomore, disappeared Nov. 25. His body - stabbed, slashed, beaten, naked and wrapped in cellophane - was found dumped on a Southwest Philadelphia loading dock the next day.

Both cases remain unsolved. *

Staff writer Valerie Russ contributed to this report.