A community in Richmond, Virginia, is reeling after an eight-year-old boy was beaten to death while trying to protect his 12-year-old sister from a rapist.

The boy, identified as Martin Cobb, was pronounced dead at the scene in the 200 block of Brandon Road Thursday night.

His sibling, whose name is not being released because of her age and the nature of the crime, was taken to a hospital.

Police have since apprehended the suspect, who turned out to be a teenager. Initially, the victim described her assailant as a white man with scraggly facial hair, the local station WWBT reported.

Investigators later determined that the suspect had threatened to kill the 12-year-old girl if she provided police with accurate information about him.

The teenager is currently being evaluated at Tuckers Psychiatric Clinic in Richmond as police are preparing to charge him with murder and assault.

At around 6.30pm Thursday, the brother and sister were playing by the train tracks near their home when a stranger approached the 12-year-old girl, sexually assaulted her and slashed her face, the kids’ aunt and stepfather told WRIC.

When her 8-year-old brother tried to intervene, the teenage attacker allegedly turned on him, throwing a rock at his head. Martin died instantly.

‘To have the courage to defend his sister as if he was a grown man,’ neighbour Sudan Aunu told Richmond Times Dispatch. ‘His sister is alive today because of him.’

Police responded to the scene a short time later after someone saw the 12-year-old girl running naked and covered in blood out of the nearby woods.

The child was taken to a hospital to be treated for bruises and lacerations. Her family said she was very distraught by what happened.