0

4 now charged in bleach attack

LILBURN -- Lilburn police made three additional arrests Thursday and effectively closed the investigation into a bleach-filled-balloon prank that went awry, leaving a boy seriously injured.

Police arrested Juan Flores, 17, and two fellow Meadowcreek High School students, both 15, in connection with the May 26 assault. A 16-year-old classmate was arrested Wednesday.

All four suspects have given matching confessions and are charged with felony aggravated battery, said Lilburn police spokesman Capt. Bruce Hedley. Flores was booked at the Gwinnett County Jail, while the others remain at a youth detention facility.

Their intent was to ruin the clothes of students trekking home on the last day of school, police said.

"We've eliminated every motive, other than a random, silly prank that turned into what is now a very serious crime," Hedley said Thursday.

The 16-year-old was allegedly driving the 2008 Nissan Quest, with Flores in the passenger seat and the juveniles in back, Hedley said.

The teens are accused of firing a bleach-filled balloon and a "Super Soaker" water gun from the van, hitting Lilburn Middle School student Miguel Mesa, 14, who is battling for his eyesight.

Coincidentally, all four suspects had been Lilburn Middle School students themselves, Hedley said.

Police believe Mesa was targeted at random. The bleach bottle believed to be used in the attack and the water gun have been confiscated as evidence, Hedley said.

After being hit with the bleach balloon, Mesa was treated at Gwinnett Medical Center for severe burns to his face and damage to his eyes. Whether he'll regain full function in his eyes remains to be seen, following further treatment, Hedley said.

"The eye functions are not normal," he said. "We don't know if they'll ever go back to their original state."

Police don't believe the four suspects knew Mesa, though they did show signs of remorse.

Once Mesa dropped to the sidewalk, they circled back in the van, had a brief discussion and decided to go home instead of reaching out for help. As the story spread across media outlets last week, the driver told police he wanted to visit Mesa in the hospital but decided against it, Hedley said.

According to state law, aggravated battery requires that a victim be dismembered or disfigured in some way.

"With the damage to victim's eyes, we feel we've met the statutory requirements of this code section," Hedley said. "It's a very serious crime."