Sui­cide re­veals sex-abuse claim

Al­leged vic­tim made charges on video be­fore tak­ing life

Orlando Sentinel - - NATION & WORLD - By Becky Bohrer

JUNEAU, Alaska — Karl Ward is long dead, but some say the once-revered school su­per­in­ten­dent in a small Alaska fish­ing town was not the benev­o­lent ed­u­ca­tor wor­thy of hav­ing the high school gym named in his honor.

A cell­phone video made by a man be­fore he died by sui­cide last month has given voice to at least five other men, all of whom say they were sex­u­ally abused decades ago by Ward, val­i­dat­ing whis­pers that had long qui­etly ex­isted.

Rick Martin graph­i­cally ex­plained on the video what he said Ward had done to him, and now his widow Rene, who serves as the prin­ci­pal in Haines, is speak­ing out.

There is no le­gal re­course, all con­cede, but she hopes to spark a con­ver­sa­tion about men­tal health and abuse.

The guilt “needs to only live with that one man,” she said.

Ward worked in the school district for more than 20 years, in­clud­ing as su­per­in­ten­dent in the 1960s and ’70s, ac­cord­ing to the Chilkat Val­ley News; he died in 1997. His widow is in an as­sisted liv­ing fa­cil­ity.

The fa­cil­ity’s nurse ad­min­is­tra­tor, Stephanie Pat­ti­son, said the woman asked her to tell peo­ple that she is “in shock and she’s in mourn­ing for the life she thought she had.”

Po­lice Chief Heath Scott said he has no rea­son to doubt the al­le­ga­tions, but there’s noth­ing to in­ves­ti­gate, nor rea­son to sus­pect any sort of cover-up. He con­firmed that Martin made the abuse claims on the video.

Haines, a fish­ing and tourist com­mu­nity of about 1,740, is lo­cated about 80 air miles north­west of Juneau, in south­east Alaska.

The men who have spo­ken since Martin’s death about un­wanted touch­ing or ad­vances by Ward while they were teenagers spoke to the Chilkat Val­ley News’ Kyle Clay­ton, who went through year­books and called dozens of peo­ple to lo­cate al­leged vic­tims.

“I had to find ev­ery­body. No one came for­ward to me,” Clay­ton said.

Once one of the men, Craig Loomis, spoke to Clay­ton about his own al­leged ex­pe­ri­ence with Ward, oth­ers be­gan to speak.

“It kind of started fall­ing over like domi­noes,” Clay­ton said. The As­so­ci­ated Press typ­i­cally doesn’t name vic­tims of sex­ual abuse, but the men have pub­licly come for­ward to dis­cuss their al­le­ga­tions.

Loomis told the news­pa­per that Ward in­vited stu­dents to his house and of­fered them al­co­hol. On one visit, Ward “in­ap­pro­pri­ately touched” him, Loomis said.

“I should have said some­thing 30 or 40 years ago,” Loomis said. “Who­ever’s been suf­fer­ing, we don’t know what their life would have been if we would have said some­thing.”

Some res­i­dents told the pa­per they had heard, while grow­ing up, al­le­ga­tions about Ward.

Oth­ers saw Ward as a stand-up guy. One former prin­ci­pal, Alan Hein­rich, would not com­ment on the re­ports.

Robert Brouil­lette said he told a teacher that Ward touched him but the teacher did noth­ing, the news­pa­per re­ported.

Martin’s widow said her hus­band once told his fa­ther that Ward tried to touch him, but his fa­ther said they were Na­tive, and there was noth­ing they could do about it, she told KHNS ra­dio.

Rick Martin later worked at the school as a jan­i­tor and told his wife it was tough to see a sign cel­e­brat­ing Ward out­side the gym, the sta­tion re­ported.

Bor­ough Man­ager De­bra Schn­abel said some is­sues weren’t talked about 30 years ago, the way they have been dur­ing the cur­rent #MeToo move­ment.

“I think a lot of peo­ple in the com­mu­nity, we’re not beat­ing our­selves up for the cul­ture that we lived in,” she said. “I think that we’re kind of pleased with the fact that we can, at this point in our lives, bring it to the fore and use the knowl­edge that we have to try to make things bet­ter for ev­ery­body.”

Many res­i­dents seem re­lieved, Clay­ton said.

Lo­cal of­fi­cials are try­ing to steer res­i­dents to avail­able coun­sel­ing ser­vices. Alaska has a high rate of sex­ual as­sault and abuse, and au­thor­i­ties said the re­cent news sto­ries may have dredged up for some res­i­dents painful memories of past abuse.

The school board is­sued a pub­lic apol­ogy, say­ing the district must learn from this “heart­break­ing” sit­u­a­tion. “We can no longer ac­cept a cul­ture of si­lence about sex­ual abuse,” the state­ment says.

The plaque out­side the gym bear­ing Ward’s name has been re­moved, though a de­ci­sion re­mained on whether to re­name the fa­cil­ity. The bor­ough assem­bly, mean­while, has asked Schn­abel to draft a pol­icy for the nam­ing of fa­cil­i­ties.

Martin doesn’t want any­one to make the same choice that her hus­band did. “Where I hope this leads is for us to have hon­est con­ver­sa­tions about men­tal health and abuse and how we need to sup­port peo­ple and be hon­est and face truths, even if they’re hard and ugly,” she said.

STATE OF ALASKA

A man ac­cused of sex­ual abuse had served as su­per­in­ten­dent in Alaska’s Haines school district, a re­port said.

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