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Two teens charged over threats via social media against Steubenville rape victim

By Michael Pearson, Chelsea J. Carter and Brittany Brady, CNN
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue March 19, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Two teen girls are charged with witness intimidation and menacing
  • NEW: The girls, ages 15 and 16, are accused of tweeting threats against a rape victim
  • "Enough is enough," Ohio attorney general says of threats in Steubenville case
  • The rape case also prominently featured social media messages

Editor's note: Please note this story contains graphic language.

(CNN) -- Social media messages are once again playing a role in an investigation of two teenagers in Steubenville, Ohio, according to authorities.

This time, it's for allegedly threatening the 16-year-old rape victim of two star Steubenville High School football players, who were convicted over the weekend for the sexual abuse of the girl that was partially documented in texts, tweets and pictures posted to the Internet.

The two girls, ages 15 and 16, were charged Tuesday with intimidation of a witness, a felony charge in the third degree, according to Fred Abdalla Jr., chief probation officer for Jefferson County Juvenile Court.

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They also were charged with a misdemeanor count of aggravated menacing and a misdemeanor count of telecommunication harassment, he said.

A judge ordered the girls held in the county's juvenile lockup until March 27, when they will appear in court to answer the charges, Abdalla said.

The arrests are the latest fallout in a rape case that has roiled the down-on-its-luck town along the Ohio River.

"People are allowed to be obnoxious, and they're allowed to say crazy things, and that's fine," Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine told CNN on Tuesday. "But they can't under Ohio law threaten to kill someone, and we had to take action."

Healing process after rape never ends

In one of the tweets, the writer appears to threaten to kill the girl at the center of the rape case. Another warns that she will be beaten.

The messages were among a swarm of tweets posted Sunday, shortly after the verdicts for two teenage boys found guilty of raping the girl by putting their fingers in her vagina while she was too intoxicated to consent during a series of end-of-summer parties in August.

That case prominently featured photographs, videos and text messages documenting portions of the abuse.

Victim in Steubenville rape case says she woke up naked

In addition to the threatening tweets, other Twitter users posted messages harshly criticizing the rape victim's character, according to screen shots captured by a website dedicated to fighting online bullying.

The accounts from which the tweets reportedly originated were either deleted or password-protected Tuesday afternoon.

The girl accused of tweeting the death threat turned herself in after learning that investigators were looking for her, Sheriff Fred Abdalla said.

The other girl reportedly apologized on Twitter before her mother deleted her account, according to the anti-bullying website. The site said the girl's mother also apologized in a posting, saying her daughter is "in tears and is more sorry than I have ever seen her."

The sheriff called the arrests a warning to anyone else considering threats against the victim.

"And I can assure you we've been monitoring Twitter for 24 hours and continue to," he said. "If there's anybody else there crosses a line and makes a death threat, they're going to have to face the consequences."

Steubenville rape trial focuses on text messages, cell phone pictures

DeWine, whose prosecutors handled the rape case against the football players, also warned that any further threats won't be tolerated.

"People who want to continue to victimize this victim, to threaten her, we're going to deal with them and we're going after them," DeWine told CNN on Tuesday. "We don't care if they're juveniles or whether they're adults. Enough is enough."

Steubenville has been in a harsh spotlight since the rape accusations became national news in December.

A crime blogger and former Steubenville resident, Alexandria Goddard, uncovered some of the social media documentation of the abuse and wrote pointedly about the possibility that the boys had been given preferential treatment because they played on the town's highly regarded high school football team. Police have denied that claim.

National media picked up on the case, followed by the loosely organized hacker group Anonymous, which found and posted a lengthy video in which another teenager -- who has not been charged -- made joking references to the rape.

The ensuing ire over the case brought national attention and criticism to the city from around the country, leaving city officials struggling to defend the community and residents weary of the media spotlight.

On Monday, the victim's mother told CNN that the verdicts are "the start of a new beginning for my daughter." But she added, "We need to stress the importance of helping those in need and to stand up for what is right."

"We hope that from this something good can arise," she said. "I feel I have an opportunity to bring an awareness to others, possibly change the mentality of a youth or help a parent to have more of an awareness to where their children are and what they are doing. The adults need to take responsibility and guide these children."

While the verdicts seemed briefly to indicate the case was winding down, DeWine announced a grand jury investigation to determine if anyone else should be charged with a crime as a result of incidents surrounding the abuse.

Opinion: Steubenville case shows how the rules have changed

CNN's Poppy Harlow, Brian Vitagliano and Yon Pomrenze contributed to this report.

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