4 in custody for bleach balloon attack

All four high school students accused in the bleach attack that seriously injured a 14-year-old are behind bars, police said Thursday night.

"Everybody is in custody," Lilburn Police Capt. Bruce Hedley told the AJC. "The case is closed."

Juan Flores, 17, of Norcross, and three other Meadowcreek High School students, all juveniles, are accused of tossing a bleach-filled balloon from a van, striking the boy in the face as he walked home from school.

Police said Flores, the front seat passenger, also used a "Super Soaker" water gun to spray a bleach mixture on the boy. A 16-year-old boy apparently was driving his mother's van, and two 15-year-old boys were in the back seat, Hedley said.

The four suspects told police they were only trying to ruin the boy's clothes. But Miguel Mesa, who just finished seventh grade at Lilburn Middle School, may have suffered permanent eye damage, his family said.

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"It started out as a high school prank, an end-of-year prank," Lilburn Police Capt. Bruce Hedley said, adding that Flores gave a full confession.

The 16-year-old driver was arrested Wednesday, and the 15-year-olds turned themselves into police Thursday. The juveniles are being held at a youth detention center are are not being identified by police.

"We just called them and said ‘bring your parents and come on down,' " Hedley said. "They were all crying. Their parents were crying."

Mesa was seriously injured when a balloon filled with bleach struck him in the face and eyes, temporarily blinding him. Two classmates called police and provided police with a description of the van.

Tips from the community led police to the suspects, who threw the balloon from a 2008 Nissan Quest, Hedley said.

"We've recovered the bleach bottle and balloons used," Hedley said Wednesday.

Police also recovered the "Super Soaker" water gun. The suspects told police they didn't realize how harmful the bleach could be, he said.

"They wanted to ruin the clothes of the victim," Hedley said.

Mesa underwent treatment Wednesday afternoon to remove blood from his right eye, he told the AJC.

Once blood has been removed from his eyes, doctors will better be able to determine whether Miguel will suffer permanent damage. It likely will be at least two weeks before doctors know the extent of the damage done to her son's eyes, his mother, Isabel Mesa, said Wednesday.

Swelling and bruising has decreased, she said, but her son's eyes are still red.

“All I want is for my boy to get better,” she said in Spanish.

Miguel told the AJC last week most of his vision had returned. He initially thought he had gone blind after being hit with something. A classmate called 911, and Miguel was taken by ambulance to Gwinnett Medical Center.

"Everything is looking good right now," Miguel said late Wednesday night. He has to return for another doctor appointment next week, he said.

Miguel's older sister, Connie, also a student at Meadowcreek, told the AJC last week that she suspected high school students were behind the assault.

After the bleach balloon was tossed from the van, the driver apparently turned around and drove past the scene on U.S. 29, Hedley said.

"They drove past the victim," Hedley said.

One suspect apparently considered visiting Miguel at the hospital but changed his mind, Hedley said.

The four suspects do not have previous criminal history, Hedley said.

"These were not hard criminals," Hedley said. "They just made a life-changing mistake. This is serious."

The 16-year-old has a first hearing scheduled at 8:30 a.m. Friday, Hedley said.

-- Staffers Larry Hartstein, Rudy Isaza and Vino Wong contributed to this report.

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