(NBC) - Police ramped up their investigation Thursday into the case of a 7-year-old girl who they say was gang-raped by a group of men while her 15-year-old stepsister was paid to watch.
Police conducted a pre-dawn raid at the troubled public housing complex, a high-rise apartment building so dangerous that officers are hired as security guards at night.
Hours before, they arrested a 20-year-old Trenton man on charges he had sex with the teenager in one of the apartments. Gregory Joseph Leary was booked Wednesday night on charges of statutory rape and endangering the welfare of a child. Under New Jersey law, the 15-year-old is too young to consent to sex.
Leary was being held Thursday in jail on a $200,000 bond. Jail officials said Leary does not have a listed attorney.
Police said they are investigating whether Leary was involved with the rape of the 7-year-old at a party Sunday night in the apartment complex down the street from the Statehouse.
On Thursday morning, police arrested 27 people on unrelated outstanding warrants during a sweep of Rowan Towers. Trenton Police Capt. Joseph Juniak said the raid was planned before the girl's attack, but that it was "somewhat beneficial for investigators" looking into the child rape.
Many of those arrested Thursday were women who told The Associated Press the warrants were for minor infractions.
Residents said the assault was clearly at the forefront of police officers' agenda during the raid.
Tair Rivers, 27, said officers yelled, "What happened to the little girl?" as they arrested her for outstanding parking tickets.
Rivers lives in 13H, an apartment right across from 13C, where the party occurred. She said she was not home over the weekend, but would not hesitate to tell police if she knew something.
"We all got kids," Rivers said. "If we knew something, we would tell."
Police believe as many as a dozen people were at the party and said everyone in the apartment when the rape occurred could be legally culpable.
At the party, the 15-year-old started having sex with several men for money and then gave the younger girl some cash to let a group of men touch her as she looked on, police said. It soon escalated to rape and the men threatened to kill the child if she screamed or told anyone, according to police.
Police are reviewing surveillance videos at the complex.
According to police, the teenager and the 7-year-old were outside in the neighborhood Sunday when the older girl ran into two young men she knew who invited her to the party. The 7-year-old wanted to tag along because she was worried about the older girl's safety.
The girl later put on her clothes and left the apartment; her older sister stayed. Two women found the child crying outside the apartment and walked her home.
The teenager's name was not released because of her age, but the county prosecutor plans to ask the court to try her as an adult. It was not clear who was representing the girl in juvenile court.
Interstate Realty Management Company, which manages the 15-story building, said about 150 people live there, and many of the apartments are vacant.
The raid Thursday sends a message, Trenton Mayor Doug Palmer said.
"This is only the beginning," Palmer said. "We're not going to rest until that area is cleaned up so that decent people can live without the threat of fear and violence."
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Thursday called the incident "deplorable" in his first public comments on the crime that occurred in the shadow of the New Jersey Statehouse.