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- November 28, 2011
- Vol. 76
- No. 22
Penn State Sex-Abuse Case: How Could This Happen?
An Inside Look at How Beloved Football Coach Jerry Sandusky Befriended-and Allegedly Betrayed and Molested-Some of the Young Boys Who Idolized Him
Craig stopped seeing Sandusky at age 14, avoiding even more damaging contact with him. But at least eight young boys-and possibly more, as there are reports of others coming forward-may not have. After a three-year investigation, a shocking Nov. 4 Pennsylvania grand jury report charged Sandusky, 67, with being a sexual predator and serial pedophile who molested and raped young boys-one possibly as young as 8 years old-he found and groomed through Second Mile, which he started in 1977. What's more, according to the report, at least one top official at Penn State-where Sandusky was defensive coordinator under legendary coach Joe Paterno for more than 20 years-was made aware of Sandusky's actions as early as 1998 and failed to stop him; one graduate assistant admits he saw Sandusky raping a boy in a campus shower in 2002, and still police were not notified (see box). Since the report became public, Penn State's president, athletic director and a senior vice president have all stepped down; the latter two were arrested for perjury and failing to report a crime. Even Paterno, 84, was fired after 46 years as head coach. Second Mile is also under scrutiny: The charity banned Sandusky from events with kids in 2008, but he did not resign until 2010. (The charity's CEO, Jack Raykovitz, resigned Nov. 13). "I am shocked by the extent and magnitude of abuse," says Kathy Redmond, founder of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes. "I can't fathom a coach being allowed to do this and nobody saying anything."
Sandusky, who was arrested and released on $100,000 bail, has denied all 40 counts of child rape and sexual abuse. "I am innocent of those charges," he told NBC's Bob Costas, while owning up to some actions described by the grand jury. "I have horsed around with kids, I have showered [with them] after workouts," he said. "I have hugged them, and I have touched their legs without intent of sexual contact." Yet even those admissions are damning, says victims' advocate Jennifer Storm: "It is inappropriate and illegal for him even to be showering with a 10-year-old boy."
The prospect that a man so admired and beloved-a man dubbed Saint Sandusky after he quit coaching in 1999, ostensibly to devote himself to his charity-is actually a monster has those who knew him reeling with disbelief. "Jerry never gave any sign that this was the kind of man he is," says Patricia Coble, a 10-year volunteer with Second Mile who quit when its founder was arrested. "He duped all of us."
A Pennsylvania native and one-time Penn State player, Sandusky raised five adopted sons and one adopted daughter with his wife, Dottie; some of them were foster kids who came to the family via Second Mile. Now grown, his children have stayed silent in the wake of the charges. One, Jon, 34, is an assistant to the general manager of the Cleveland Browns. Sandusky's daughter Kara, 39, wrote a loving foreword to her father's 2001 memoir, Touched, recalling how his children helped out at the charity. "We were always proud of the things he did for kids," she wrote.
If Sandusky is indeed guilty of such a string of horrific crimes, why couldn't anyone stop him before now? A few alleged victims tried to sound the alarm years ago. In 1998 the mother of an 11-year-old identified as "Victim 6" in the grand jury report complained to police that Sandusky had showered with her son. "I was wrong," Sandusky confessed to her in a call listened to by detectives. "I wish I were dead." No charges were filed, but Sandusky abruptly retired the following year.
Three years later, according to the grand jury, graduate assistant Mike McQueary saw Sandusky raping a boy in a campus locker-room shower. McQueary told Paterno, who alerted other school officials. In a recent e-mail McQueary evidently sent to friends and which was obtained by NBC News, he claims that on witnessing the rape, "I didn't just turn and run.... I made sure it stopped." But no one notified police, and Sandusky remained a fixture at Penn State for several more years, his presence woven into the school's tradition. "Part of being a student athlete there was interacting with the Second Mile kids," says Ivory Gethers, who played at the school from 1988 to 1992. "It was a family environment. What's going on now is 360 degrees from what I saw."
Indeed, Sandusky's Pied Piper persona only enhanced his status at Penn State, an insular community steeped in the university's reputation for honorable conduct. Sandusky regularly took groups of Second Mile children to games, then brought them to his home for cookouts and sometimes overnight stays. Hauntingly, his own book corroborates this pattern of behavior. Sandusky writes about how he would take a special interest in particular boys he met through Second Mile and mentions one (by first name only) who "I got close to." The boy, he writes, "came to our house on several occasions to visit and stay. I climbed Mount Nittany with [him], rode bicycles and did just anything I could so we could spend time together."
On the Penn State campus, in State College, Pa., Sandusky was known to everyone "as this pillar of the community, this outstanding, wonderful, friendly man," says Troy Craig. As a result, he says, "I was hesitant with how much I revealed about the physical contact. I told my parents that being alone with him made me uncomfortable, but I was careful not to tell them too much because I didn't want to anger him." The mother of an 11-year-old boy identified by the grand jury as "Victim 1" told Good Morning America her son also felt similarly trapped. "'I didn't know what to do,'" she said he explained after she learned what happened. "'You just can't tell Jerry no.'"
The mother alerted someone at her son's school in late 2008, and they in turn contacted authorities, triggering the current investigation. Sandusky now faces 20 years in prison for each count; a court hearing is set for Dec. 7. Some victims are also considering civil lawsuits against Sandusky, Penn State and Second Mile.
At Penn State's home football game on Nov. 12-the first since the charges surfaced, and the first without Paterno as head coach in nearly half a century-players locked arms, and fans held a moment of silence in support of the victims. The mood on campus was grim and surreal and will likely stay that way for a long time to come. If Sandusky is guilty, "it is just so disturbing because so many people worked so hard for him, and all we did was unknowingly feed his habit," says Patricia Coble. "It's just a sad day. A very, very sad day."
- Nicole Weisensee Egan/State College,
- Wendy Grossman Kantor/State College,
- Jeff Truesdell/St. Louis.
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