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Chilling details emerge about beating and stabbing of Worcester lifeguard during arraignment of suspects

The Boston Globe logo The Boston Globe 7/6/2021 Travis Andersen

He’s only 17, and he signed up to save lives.

But on Tuesday, a judge heard chilling new details of the pummeling a lifeguard took while working Sunday evening at Bell Pond in Worcester, where four men allegedly beat him with a stick and stabbed him in the back in retaliation for a request that they stop smoking and drinking at the popular swimming area.

The details were contained in court filings that said the teen guard told investigators his attackers had “charged at him and attacked him, while one male had a large stick. The males attacked him by striking him with the large stick, punching him, and stabbing him.”

Those same filings from Worcester police said one of the suspects, 22-year-old Celestine Bigirimana, led police on a wild foot chase in which he was seen running “in the rear of multiple homes, jumping fences and I observed multiple resident[s] in shock of what was occurring.”

Bigirimana and a second suspect who allegedly menaced the lifeguard were held without bail Tuesday during their arraignments in Worcester District Court. Not guilty pleas were entered for Bigirimana and Mohamed Abdullahi, 19, for their alleged roles in the ambush. They were ordered held pending detention hearings slated for Thursday.

Assistant Worcester District Attorney Joseph Simmons said during Bigirimana’s arraignment that Bigirimana was among a group of people at Bell Pond Sunday whom staff identified as “drinking and smoking.” The group, Simmons said, was “asked to stop,” and some of them went into a wooded area.

One of the men, Simmons continued, later returned to the pond “with three other individuals, including the defendant before you,” meaning Bigirimana.

“The first individual . . . had a large stick in his hand,” Simmons said. “All four began to assault a 17-year-old lifeguard at that time. In addition, one of those individuals stabbed the 17-year-old lifeguard in the lower back that caused an injury.

Other staffers intervened to force the assailants off the wounded guard, Simmons said, and someone managed to take a photo of the suspects. Worcester police later arrested “two individuals nearly coming out of the woods,” Simmons said.


Video: Teenage lifeguard stabbed in Worcester for enforcing rules; 4 people arrested by police (WCVB Boston)

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He said local residents and staff later identified Bigirimana and he was taken into custody.

Bigirimana’s lawyer didn’t directly respond to the allegations during Tuesday’s hearing, but Molly Schranz, a lawyer for Abdullahi, said the evidence against her client may be weak.

Schranz noted that three of four witnesses identified Abdullahi as one of the assailants after “very coercive, kind of, not coercive but a very difficult identification proceeding. Only three of them identified, it appears, Mr. Abdullahi. So there is a question as to some of the identification.”

Bigirimana pleaded not guilty to charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, resisting arrest, disturbing the peace, trespassing, disorderly conduct, and miscellaneous municipal bylaw violation, legal filings show.

Court documents show Abdullahi pleaded not guilty to a sole count of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. Police had alleged in court filings that the weapon was a stick and that Abdullahi allegedly participated as a “joint venture” assailant.

Tuesday’s arraignments came one day after Worcester police Chief Steven Sargent blasted the “shocking” stabbing of the guard and said authorities were beefing up patrols at swimming areas and parks in the aftermath of the attack.

Sargent’s strongly worded statement was posted to the official Facebook page of the Worcester Police Department.

“After the shocking stabbing of a city lifeguard yesterday, the Worcester Police Department will be increasing patrols at our beaches and parks,” Sargent said. “We will not tolerate those who would use violence to take away the peace of our public spaces. I pray for the recovery of the victim and thank the officers for their swift response that led to the perpetrators being held accountable.”

The lifeguard was taken to a local hospital with injuries that are “not life-threatening,” Worcester police Lieutenant Sean Murtha said previously.

One suspect, identified as Bigirimana, was chased by police on foot and arrested near Wilson Street, about half a mile from the pond. Three other suspects in the stabbing — Abdullahi, 23-year-old Melquan Jefferson, and a 17-year-old who police did not identify, all of Worcester — were arrested after police saw them emerge from the woods in Bell Hill Park.

Tim Connolly, a spokesman for Worcester District Attorney Joseph Early, said Jefferson was questioned but not charged.

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