May 12, 2005 in City
Report false, ranch director says
The longtime director of Morning Star Boys Ranch on wednesday denied a report that Mayor Jim West and a former sheriff’s deputy “checked out” boys for day outings and camping trips in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The Rev. Joe Weitensteiner said the allegations came as a “huge shock,” and that he had staff review daily log books to search for encounters with West and deceased Deputy David Hahn.
“We found no record that Jim West or Dave Hahn ever volunteered at Morning Star Boys Ranch or checked out boys to go camping or to leave the campus,” Weitensteiner said in a press conference at the ranch.
West resigned from the center’s board of directors on May 6, one day after The Spokesman-Review reported allegations that he abused two young boys in the late 1970s. He also resigned from the executive board of the Inland Northwest Council of Boy Scouts of America.
On Sunday, The Spokesman-Review reported that Hahn’s brother-in-law, Dick Walters, said the two men took boys from the youth ranch on recreational outings. Walters said he is now convinced that Hahn, who committed suicide in August 1981, was a pedophile.
Walters, who was contacted by ranch spokesman P.J. Watters on Sunday after the initial published report, said he spoke with his wife and sister-in-law, who are Hahn’s sisters. Walters said the two women clearly remembered their brother telling them that he had taken boys from Morning Star on outings.
Weitensteiner said Morning Star has frequently been confused with other boys’ ranches or children’s homes. The center, a sprawling 225-acre ranch in southeastern Spokane, has provided living facilities to nearly 1,300 boys since it opened in 1957.
Weitensteiner said he first met West in 1993, after receiving a recommendation that West be appointed to the center’s board of directors.
West did occasionally participate in the center’s Christmas dinner and annual awards banquet, Weitensteiner said. Board members do not have unsupervised access to the boys, he added.
Weitensteiner concluded his remarks without taking questions from the media.
Two men who once lived at the home attended the press conference with Weitensteiner and praised the ranch and its staff.
“Coming to Morning Star was probably the best thing that could ever happen to me personally,” said Rick Fleck, who arrived at the center in 1963 after his parents died.
Fleck said he never heard about “any improprieties at Morning Star.”
Morning Star officials said Patrick O’Donnell, a confessed pedophile and former priest, did visit the youth center but did not work there.
In a 2004 deposition, O’Donnell said he did consultations for the staff at Morning Star for “a few months.” But at some point between 1980 and 1985, a bishop instructed him to cease those consultations, O’Donnell said.
Dan Kuhlmann, assistant director at the ranch, said there is no record that O’Donnell was ever employed by the youth center.
“O’Donnell had an association with Father Joe,” Kuhlmann said in an interview. “It just would not be unusual for Father Joe to bring priests to the ranch” on tours.