Nation/World

Sex Abuse Charges Tear Neighbors Apart Baby Sitter Accused Of Molesting Children In His Care

Accusations that a 14-year-old boy molested several neighborhood children have torn apart a tidy Heritage Place cul-de-sac.

Parents in six homes that ring a street once used freely as a neighborhood play area are struggling to cope with their anger, fear and constant suspicions. They worry there may be more victims.

About a dozen children, including the accused boy, formerly bounced from dinner table to dinner table. The boy often baby-sat the other children in the neighborhood.

“It’s amazing how many of us trusted this boy,” said the mother of a 6-year-old girl who told police she had been molested.

Police reports say the boy has talked in detail about molesting five neighborhood children - ages 5 to 8 - as part of an initiation into a “secret club.” He also has admitted having sexual contact with three others, including his brothers, according to the police reports.

“He basically told me he didn’t know he had done anything wrong,” said Post Falls police Lt. Dick Halligan, who questioned and arrested the boy.

The boy has been charged with four counts of lewd conduct with a minor, Halligan said. He faces a court hearing on the charges Friday and could spend up to seven years in a juvenile detention center.

“He probably didn’t know the severity of it, but you know that boy knew wrong,” said one victim’s mother.

The boy, who once passed out babysitting fliers, has spent the past four weeks in juvenile detention, but the victims’ parents say that has not eased the strain on the neighborhood.

They said the accused boy’s parents were very apologetic when details of the abuse surfaced last month. However, as the weeks have worn on, they said, the accused boy’s parents have become increasingly defensive.

Exchanges that had been civil have turned nasty. Accusations involve name-calling, yelling out of windows, inappropriate gesturing and the boy’s brothers inviting neighborhood children to their house, where they have been forbidden to go.

“‘We are the ones who have wronged them’ is the attitude we get,” a victim’s mother said.

The accused boy’s parents have put their house up for sale and told neighbors they plan to move quickly. His mother declined to comment when reached by phone Wednesday.

Moving day won’t come soon enough for the victims’ parents.

One mother who worried the boy might be released from juvenile detention organized a petition and asked parents on several blocks to sign it.

Most parents in the cul-de-sac now watch their children from their yard or keep them inside. All of the parents made sure to keep a close eye on their children after a detention hearing for the accused boy was held Monday afternoon.

“There was just a feeling that we should be out there with them,” said the mother of a 5-year-old boy who is among the victims.

Many of the families had been friends with the boy’s parents before he was arrested. Some regularly included the boy in their family activities, helping him with homework, fixing his computer and taking him boating.

One family’s house became like a second home to the boy, who came over daily before school for two years. All had fed him dinner.

Those memories have been picked over during the past four weeks by grieving parents searching for clues that might have tipped them off to the abuse sooner. Incidents that once seemed insignificant are now looked at suspiciously.

“We think back and go, ‘My God, how long ago did this start?”’ said one father, recalling a night when he and his wife had played cards with the boy’s parents.

The couple’s then 3-year-old son, who came with them, was learning to use the toilet. When they returned home, he told his parents the boy tried to touch him.

At the time, the couple decided their son misunderstood the boy’s attempt to be helpful. The boy, now 6, is one of the victims.

“It’s really hard,” the father said. “I don’t know how to vent those feelings.”

For most, their feelings of animosity toward the accused boy are rivalled only by guilt.

“I was totally disgusted that I didn’t see something,” one mother said. “I should have seen something.

“I was almost ashamed to go talk to the detective. He must have been thinking, what kind of parent was I?”

All of the children have appointments to see a counselor. Their parents also plan to seek help.

Particularly troubling for the father of an abused 5-year-old boy was that he had been a close friend of the accused boy’s father before the allegations of abuse.

The stress of the situation was often more than he could take. During a recent gathering at a neighbor’s house, he fidgeted nervously, cracked jokes and repeatedly left the room.

“This is a tough gig for me,” he said in a rare serious moment.

His wife said it took her two days to get past the shock of learning their son had been abused.

“My initial feeling was overwhelming sadness,” she said. “They’re children, and a huge part of their innocence was stolen forever. And as a parent, you love your child’s innocence.”

, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: IDENTITIES PROTECTED Six parents of victims were interviewed for this story. The victims and their parents are not named because of a Spokesman-Review policy not to identify victims of sexual assault. The 14-year-old suspect is not being identified because of his age.

This sidebar appeared with the story: IDENTITIES PROTECTED Six parents of victims were interviewed for this story. The victims and their parents are not named because of a Spokesman-Review policy not to identify victims of sexual assault. The 14-year-old suspect is not being identified because of his age.



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