Fact Check

Three Syrian Refugees Assault 5-Year-Old Girl at Knifepoint?

An event involving children that occurred in Twin Falls, Idaho, was widely reported in inaccurate fashion.

Published June 20, 2016

Three Syrian refugees raped and murdered a 5-year-old girl at knifepoint in Idaho.
What's True

Police investigated a 2 June 2016 incident in Twin Falls, Idaho, involving a five-year-old girl and three boys aged seven, ten, and fourteen.

What's False

The incident was not a rape, the girl was not murdered, the boys involved were not Syrian, a knife was not used, and no "language barrier" prevented police from investigating or detaining two boys involved.

In June 2016, online outlets began reporting a rumor that three Syrian refugees had raped a 5-year-old Idaho girl at knifepoint, that police were lax in investigating the case, and that news media were refusing to cover the story:

Proving a dangerous bias, the media have remained eerily silent on the horrific events that occurred on June 2. In a shameless bid to protect their leftist agenda, news outlets have given only vague details of the disturbing case, however, an outraged neighbor has come forward with the full story that is sure to put a damper on the federal refugee resettlement program.

KMVT reported on June 7 that a sexual assault occurred near the Fawnbrook Apartment complex in Twin Falls, Idaho. Only stating that no charges have been filed, according to prosecutor Grant Loebs, the station concludes that allegations are swirling on social media from an eye witness. Although they’ve done well not to give any hint of who the perpetrators are, why they’re being investigated, or who the victim is, a neighbor has broken the silence out of pure indignance over the authorities’ handling of the case.

The boys are ages 13, 10, and 8, and are Syrian refugee children from 2 families resettled in the apartments. What happened next is too sickening for mere words ... [A] neighbor states that the Syrian boys stripped the girl naked, raped her, and urinated on her body and in her mouth. Although the two younger boys were unable to perform sexually due to their ages, the 13 “coached” the pair while he videoed the sexual assault after his own participation.

The rumor made its way to a conspiracy-oriented web site, whose headline on the topic blared: "REPORT: THREE SYRIAN 'REFUGEES; RAPE LITTLE GIRL AT KNIFEPOINT IN IDAHO; Furious residents accuse council of cover-up." The headline made no mention of the ages of the "refugees" involved and asserted that police had declined to act due to a "language barrier":

Three Syrian refugees reportedly raped a little girl at knifepoint in Idaho before urinating on her body, an incident that prompted furious residents to accuse Twin Falls city council members of covering up the assault.

The little girl was playing outside Fawnbrook apartment buildings when the boys put a knife to her throat and forced her inside a laundry unit. She was then stripped naked, raped and urinated on. The 13-year-old reportedly told the younger boys to urinate on her because they were incapable of ejaculating.

The victim’s grandmother found the victim and then called the girl’s mother, who called the police. The police took 2 and a half hours to arrive but were unable to take any action due to the “language barrier”.

When she arrived, the mother of the alleged rapists was only able to say “no police,” while the father reportedly congratulated his 13-year-old son. Video of the entire assault was captured on the boy’s cellphone.

A follow-up KMTV report revealed that, “the case has officially been sealed by a judge with no chance of it ever being unsealed since all parties involved are minors.”

A video of a Twin Falls council meeting shows irate residents demanding to know why council members have done nothing to address the alleged rape, as well as numerous other issues involving Syrian refugees being housed in the area, including hit and run incidents and Muslims spitting on non-Muslims.

We contacted county prosecutor Grant Loebs to obtain first-hand information about the rumors. He confirmed to us that an incident did take place at the Fawnbrook Apartment complex in Twin Falls, Idaho, on 2 June 2016 involving a five-year-old girl, a seven-year-old boy, a ten-year-old boy, and a 14-year-old boy. Loebs said that the three boys were of Middle Eastern descent, but they were not Syrian and he had no information indicating they were refugees.

Because the case is still being investigated and involves minors, Loebs was unable to disclose many of its details. However, he confirmed that police have indeed been aggressively investigating leads in the case, observing all normal procedural practices rather than declining to act due to any purported language barriers. Officers have also interviewed the girl and all of the boys involved, with the ten- and fourteen-year-old boys having been detained in juvenile custody during the ongoing investigation.

Loebs told us there was no indication a knife was involved in the incident, and that no one was "raped" or murdered (although contact of a sensitive nature allegedly occurred). Moreover, he stated that the investigation was a police matter, not one involving the local city council (which has no jurisdiction in criminal cases).

Loebs subsequently provided much the same information to local news media:

“There were no Syrians involved, there was no knife involved, there was no gang-rape,” Twin Falls County Prosecutor Grant Loebs said.

His comments largely refute several differing accounts about the incident circulating on anti-refugee resettlement and conspiracy websites and anti-Muslim blogs. Most of those accounts claim a group of Syrian refugees sexually assaulted a mentally disabled girl at knife-point June 2 in the laundry facilities of Fawnbrook Apartments, a low-income housing complex in Twin Falls, and that the attack was celebrated by the perpetrators' families as city officials orchestrated a cover-up.

An incident did occur, Loebs said, and two juveniles have been charged after authorities obtained video shot on a cellphone. But the details of the case don't match what's being reported by anti-refugee groups, the prosecutor said.

There were no adults involved, Loebs said, the boys didn't have a knife, and the incident wasn't a "gang-rape" instigated by the oldest boy.
“All those involved are juveniles, and the older one didn’t touch the victim in any way,” Loebs said. Only one person is alleged to have touched the victim, said the prosecutor, though he declined to elaborate.

Various officials attributed the spread of much of the misinformation reported about the case to locals opposed to refugee resettlement in their area:

Loebs said he didn’t want to “fan the flames of anti-Syrian refugee people” but suspects the false reports are the work of a local group opposed to refugee resettlement who hoped to stir up trouble by claiming the incident involved Syrian refugees who committed a violent sexual assault.

“There is a small group of people in Twin Falls County whose life goal is to eliminate refugees, and thus far they have not been constrained by the truth,” Loebs said. “They have not been constrained by the truth in the past, and I don’t expect them to be constrained by the truth in the future.”

Loebs said sex cases between minors aren't uncommon and implied that this case is being exploited by the local anti-refugee movement to make a political point.

No Syrians have been settled in Twin Falls through Idaho refugee programs, said Jan Reeves, director of the Idaho Office for Refugees.

“There have been periodic website postings about hundreds of Syrians coming to Idaho that have all proven to be false in the past, and this is probably just one of those attempts to try and stir up hatred and bigotry,” he said.

Echoing statements by the prosecutor, Zeze Rwasama, director of the CSI Refugee Center, said refugee opponents are trying to promote an agenda, particularly against Syrian refugees. He asked residents to confirm facts and refrain from speculating online.

“It breaks my heart when people in the community are divided around issues of resettling refugees,” he said.

Twin Falls Police Chief Craig Kingsbury later stated at a press conference that the boys involved were of Iraqi and Sudanese (not Syrian) descent, that "something a lot less serious than a sexual assault" was initially reported to police, and that none of the boys' families were congratulating them following whatever took place:

At a press conference in Twin Falls, Chief Kingsbury addressed community members and the city council about the alleged assault and explained that two of the three boys involved in the incident are at a detention center following the alleged crime. The boys are reported to have been in the Twin Falls area for less than two years.

The police chief also said there is no evidence to support claims the suspects' fathers high-fived or praised the boys for committing the alleged assault, as has been reported on anti-refugee websites.

Further refuting claims made in the stories online that police bungled the investigation or tried to cover it up, Loebs said the police investigated the incident thoroughly, interviewed everyone who needed to be and followed proper protocols.

Kingsbury also addressed claims that it took the police department more than two hours to respond.

“Simply, that just is not true,” the chief said. “The Twin Falls Police Department, the Magic Valley Paramedics, even the Twin Falls County Sheriff’s Office, responded in due time.”

Earlier in his comments, Kingsbury said the call originally came in as “something a lot less serious than a sexual assault or lewd and lascivious conduct.”

Chief Kingsbury was unable to confirm or deny if the boys are refugees.

Multiple news outlets have indeed covered the incident, and they have "given only vague details of the disturbing case" because its active status and the involvement of minors precludes officials from providing more detail:

The criminal cases against those juveniles have been sealed, as is customary when children are charged. Although prosecutors and police are barred from discussing certain details in sealed juvenile cases,

[NOTE: The photograph displayed at the head of this article is unrelated to this case and does not picture anyone actually involved in the reported incident.]


Johnson, Paul.   "TF Police Investigate Sexual Assault."     KMVT-TV.   7 June 2016.

KIVI-TV [Idaho].   "Alleged Rape Committed by Boys of Iraqi/Sudanese Descent."     20 June 2016.

Riggins, Alex et al.   "Prosecutor Says Anti-refugee Movement Spreading False Claims About Syrian Child Rape."     [Twin Falls] Times-News.   20 June 2016.

Kim LaCapria is a former writer for Snopes.