By Dylan Walsh | The Atlantic | August 10, 2015
Round Rock High School, just north of Austin in the Texas Hill Country, sprawls over 88 acres. It feels like a small liberal-arts college: There is a junior R.O.T.C. Training center. There are basketball courts, a gymnastics facility, a swimming pool, a football field, soccer fields, and a baseball diamond that, along its outfield fence, bears a faded sign commemorating the school’s 1997 state championship victory.
In January 2007, the principal called 17-year-old Jean Karlo Ponzanelli out of first-period history class and down to the office to join a waiting detective who took him to the local station for questioning. A girl he knew had run away from home and the police were curious about her whereabouts. They also suspected domestic abuse. (The girl declined a request for an interview, so her name has been withheld to protect her privacy.)
Ponzanelli had known this girl since the last day of 2005, when he attended a New Year’s Party at her home. “We go to the same high school,” he remembers her telling him in the kitchen.
“You’re in high school?” Ponzanelli asked.
Another partygoer asked her how old she was. “I’m 15,” she said.
After that, Ponzanelli and the girl drifted in the same suburban mix. He never ran into her in the hallways, but he’d often see her hanging out with his friends in the high-school parking lot at the end of the day. On occasion, she would call him and give a location and he would drive over. “Sometimes she had bruises on her face,” Ponzanelli said.
Ponzanelli said he couldn’t help the detective with her whereabouts that day. He hadn’t heard from the girl for some time. In the course of their meandering conversation, though, the Round Rock Police Department gathered another piece of information: Ponzanelli and the girl had had sex three times. On the first two occasions, the officer calculated, Ponzanelli had been 16 and she’d been 13. In Texas, sex with a minor younger than 14 is a first-degree felony. Continue reading »