Strasburg volunteer firefighters under rape, child pornography investigation

WOODSTOCK — Five members of the Strasburg Volunteer Fire Department are under Virginia State Police investigation for videotaping the alleged rape of a then-17-year-old girl and sharing the video in April, a search warrant affidavit unsealed on Thursday states.

The five men under investigation, who range in age from 20 to 36 years old, have not yet been charged with any crime, and therefore will not be named in the Daily’s news coverage of the case unless or until charges have been filed.

According to the affidavit for search warrants conducted in the investigation, “concerned citizens” contacted Strasburg Mayor Rich Orndorff on April 5 to report a video depicting the “gang rape” of a 17-year-old girl by members of the department that had been circulated through SnapChat, a mobile image and video messaging application. The department members in the video also allegedly discussed and shared the video with other fire and rescue members, the affidavit states.

The victim was not aware of any videos taken of her, the affidavit states, and the victim was “highly intoxicated” and “intimidated by all the suspects.” The affidavit also indicates that the intercourse with at least one of the suspects was not consensual.

“They just intimidated me in general,” the victim texted her mother when discussing the incident, the affidavit states.

The affidavit says the victim’s mother told a state police investigator that the victim had a sexual relationship with the suspects. The affidavit also identifies the sites of the alleged incidents as the residence of one of the suspects, a room at the Fairfield Inn on Old Valley Pike in Strasburg, and at the Strasburg Fire Department Company 51 at 163 E. King St. in Strasburg.

Orndorff notified Strasburg Police Capt. Wayne Sager about the incident, the affidavit states, and the investigation was then immediately referred to state police. The search warrants in this investigation show that the residences of the five suspects in Winchester, Strasburg and Woodstock were searched along with the fire department. Data from the suspects’ and victim’s cellphones was also searched and downloaded. State police also seized multiple cellphones, laptops and a hard drive from the suspects in this case. Sgt. F.L. (Les) Tyler, a State Police spokesman, confirmed that the investigation is still ongoing.

The Strasburg Fire Department has had a history of troubles, including a 2015 conviction of then-captain, now-Chief Dale King on drunk driving. King’s conviction came around the time some veteran department members reported a rift between older and younger members at the fire station. Then-Chief Jeff Wharton was blamed for “a lack of leadership and authority” in letters that department members circulated that also identified a lack of disciplinary actions for misconduct by some rank and file firefighters.

Fire Chief Tim Williams, of the Shenandoah County Department of Fire and Rescue, stated on Thursday that policies on any suspensions or removals of volunteer firefighters vary depending on each volunteer fire department’s specific by-laws. Williams added that none of the volunteers are county employees.

Orndorff said Thursday that he had been in discussion with county officials about the investigation and how to resolve any potential issues with the department’s future.

“We’re confident that the people of Strasburg will have adequate fire coverage pending the outcome of this investigation,” Orndorff said.

A representative for the Strasburg Fire Department was not available for comment.

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