October 15, 2005 in City

Morning Star spokeswoman quits

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The spokeswoman for Morning Star Boys’ Ranch, who became the public face of the Spokane boys’ home during a turbulent summer, resigned this week.

In a letter to Morning Star staff, P.J. Watters said she will leave the ranch to accept a position with Foundation Northwest, the largest philanthropic entity in the region.

“It’s going to be a great opportunity,” Watters said. “I have really mixed feelings. I love this place.”

But the two-page letter makes clear that Watters’ work at Morning Star – which has been beset with allegations of physical and sexual abuse – had exacted an emotional toll.

“There were many days this spring that I left work and cried all the way home – and, mind you, I have an hour-long commute,” Watters wrote. “The heartache that the organization has gone through recently due to false allegations and biased newspaper reporting is unconscionable.”

The Spokesman-Review first reported allegations against the ranch in May.

Two-and-a-half years ago, Watters joined the ranch, which has been led by Rev. Joseph Weitensteiner since 1966. In her letter, Watters said she initially searched “for guidance about whether I should pursue the position. That night Father Joe appeared in my dreams to greet me and welcome me to the Ranch.”

Weitensteiner took a leave of absence in July, after conceding he struck a boy in the face and pulled out a clump of his hair in 1978. Weitensteiner said the hair-pulling was an accident.

Two former residents sued the ranch in August, alleging that Morning Star staff sexually assaulted them in separate incidents in the 1960s and 1980s. The lawsuit also alleged Weitensteiner “savagely” beat a boy.

Watters spearheaded the ranch’s public response, which included a letter from dozens of former residents stating that “none of us ever experienced abuse there.” One of the signators, who said he had not viewed the contents of the letter before its publication, told The Spokesman-Review that he was sexually abused by another boy at the ranch but continued to support Morning Star.

Watters will begin her new position Oct. 31.

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