Twin Falls: Moving toward closure in case that drew national spotlight

Twin Falls city officials lead a groundbreaking ceremony on Main Ave. The $6.5 million dollar revitalization project will improve a five-block stretch of downtown. City officials said the ceremony helped mark a turning point in the city's moving forward in the future.

TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KBOI) - It's a big day for Twin Falls - a groundbreaking for a $6.5 million dollar renovation to a five-block stretch of Main Avenue.

A welcome sight in what has been a long year for many in the community.

Last June, the city found itself in the national headlines when three boys assaulted a young girl in a laundry room at the Fawnbrook Apartments.

"It was difficult to have those conversations and truthfully it was difficult to get residents to step up and say no, that's not us, because we were trying to avoid controversy - that's human nature," said Twin Falls Mayor Shawn Barigar.

Mayor Barigar said the national media coverage quickly turned to the boys' national origin and religion and roughly two dozen residents became regulars at city council meetings, worried about refugee resettlement in Twin Falls.

"So I think one of the biggest challenges with last year was being thrown into that spotlight is that to many outsiders - it was all about something new that was happening in Twin Falls," he said. "My frustration is, we've had refugee resettlement since the 1980's."

He estimates roughly 200 to 300 refugees per year.

Some residents said the images printed across headlines don't reflect the community's broader picture.

"Some of it seems to be an extreme over-reaction to what happened," said resident David Woodhead. "Not to belittle what happened. But it did seem like it was being used for alternative purposes."

The case out of Twin Falls has been going on for roughly a year.

Legal motions have taken place inside the county courthouse, all of which are part of a sealed case which the prosecutor said has led to so much mis-information about the case.

"It's always a challenge to handle a case that gets this kind of publicity," Grant P. Loebs said. "The bigger challenge is handling a case that gets as much fraudulent coverage as this did."

Prosecuting attorney Grant Loebs said the reality is those who know the most about the case aren't legally allowed to speak about it.

"It's a serious case which the Twin Falls Police Department handled as a serious case from the beginning, my office handled it as a serious case form the beginning," he said.

Last June, KBOI 2News spoke with a Fawnbrook Apartments resident named Grandma Jo, who witnessed the incident.

"I said to him, 'I'm sorry, what are you doing?' And he said, 'oh just taking pictures.' And I said 'well, haven't you ever seen a washing machine and dryer before' because that's what I thought he was doing. And he said 'oh yeah, I know what that is.' And I said, 'well then I'm going to lock this door.' And he goes 'oh no, don't do that'."

Today, residents at Fawnbrook tell KBOI 2News the incident has united the neighborhood and they've learned to look out for one another.

"Well, it's been pretty okay, good," the resident said, who wished to remain anonymous. "Everybody's been getting along. Everybody's moved on from everything."

But it's a far different story for the parents of the little girl who was assaulted.

"She was actually humiliated in various ways, including urine and she's traumatized," said attorney Mark Guerry, speaking about the little girl. "She's withdrawn, her parents tell me she is pretty much reclusive and unhappy and scared."

Guerry represents parents Lacy and Levi Peterson and says they're satisfied with the plea deal for all three boys.

"However, to say that this is a happy ending to the case wouldn't be accurate," he said. "Obviously, we still have the sentencing and quite frankly we want to see the harshest sentence as possible imposed."

As for city officials, the mayor says it's time for Twin Falls to move on.

"Are there concerns about terrorism? Yes," he said. "Are there fears about the refugee resettlement program? Yes. Are there terrible things happening in the world? Absolutely. But will us NOT having the refugee resettlement program solve any of those? Not at all."

The three boys will be sentenced in the next two to three weeks.

Meanwhile, the city council reviewed Monday night a draft proposal to make Twin Falls an official "Welcoming City" for all.

The mayor said he anticipates the proposal being passed in the coming weeks.