NewsCrime and Courts


Viral video captures student violence and prompts safety talk at Billings schools

Posted at 7:57 PM, Jan 29, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-30 12:16:06-05

BILLINGS — A group of teenagers allegedly attacked two individuals on Jan. 8 in separate incidents in Billings, sending both to the hospital. Several videos circulated on social media, prompting concern from Billings school officials.

According to Billings police, around noon, 19-year-old Zackary Raven Westeren and 18-year-old Cayden Michael Thornock repeatedly punched, kicked, and dragged a 15-year-old boy referred to as A.G. in the field across from Billings West High School on St. Johns Avenue. A.G. had to be taken to the hospital after the assault.

The incident came to light after A.G. and his father contacted the school the next day with a video of the assault. According to court documents, witness video shows the brutality of the attack saying A.G. is "helpless and does not fight back."

Court documents also say video shows one suspect taking off A.G.'s Air Jordan shoes before "stomping him on the face." Throughout the video, suspects continue to refer to A.G. as "n****."

But this alleged incident was just the first of two for this group of teens that day. Police say the second happened in an apartment on Lake Elmo Drive an hour later after Westeren had been kicked out of the apartment by a roommate.


Westeren and a group of other teens allegedly attacked the 29-year-old victim known as C.K. During the attack, court documents say one of the suspects "smashed a chair over his back," with a responding officer saying the man's living room was "destroyed." Several items were also broken, including a TV, and the man's Xbox was stolen. An officer observed that C.K.’s right eye was swollen shut, he had bruising to his face, and he was bleeding. He was also taken to the hospital.

According to court documents, reviews of both videos showed that the "same individuals were involved in both assaults." Police and Billings West High staff were able to identify several people in the video.

“It’s a horrible incident and my heart goes out to the victims, regardless if it’s an adult or child. You don’t want to see anything like this happening to anyone in our community,” said Gordon Klasna, executive director of secondary education for Billings Public Schools, Monday.

Klasna says the district prioritizes safety in the community.

“We’ve been working with law enforcement and our school resource officers to make sure there is good coverage of that area at lunch hour and throughout the school day,” said Klasna.

“And we are looking at a safety levy to run this spring. That’s something that’s very important to our students, staff, and to our community as whole,” he added.

The district also received another concerning call about one of the suspects on Jan. 10. A parent notified a Billings West High school resource officer that his son was receiving threatening messages and videos on SnapChat, with the suspect demanding $300 if the boy didn't want to experience the same violence.

Billings Public Schools Executive Director of Secondary Education, Gordon Klasna

“People intentionally filmed this which is horrible. We need to get back to a point where that’s not okay to not be glorifying violence, to not be putting it out there for everybody to see, to try to get likes,” Klasna said.

In a meeting with police, a bystander shown in the videos identified Thornack and three other suspects as the individuals who attacked A.G. He also identified Westeren, Thornack, and the same three other suspects in the assault video of the 29-year-old man.

Police arrested Westeren, Thornack, and another 16-year-old boy at a residence in the Heights on Jan. 11. An officer also noted one of the teen's phones was open to a SnapChat group called "Fightclub."

“Whenever something like this involving a student, there is definitely school discipline that goes along with the criminal charges they could be facing,” said Klasna.

The investigation is still ongoing. Both Westeren and Thornack are facing felony charges including assault with a weapon and robbery.