A Seattle-area man says he is among the thousands of boys nationwide who were sexually abused after joining the Boy Scouts.
Thursday was a typical morning for Michael. As he got ready for work, the 47-year-old high-school teacher logged on to seattletimes.com.
“Files on alleged Boy Scout sex abusers go public,” the headline read.
“I literally felt a pang when I saw it,” he said.
In another corner of Washington, in another living room, Gordon saw the story, too.
“A little chill went down my spine,” he said.
Although these men have never met, both shared the same visceral reaction, as troubling memories came flooding back from an incident years ago.
Michael worried he might be identified in the Scout files as a victim. Gordon worried that his brother, Michael’s Scoutmaster, would be named a perpetrator.
Hundreds of these confidential Boy Scouts of America files were released Thursday by an Oregon lawyer under court order.
It was the first time this information, which the Scouts had fought hard for years to keep secret, was available to anyone, at any time, online.
As Michael reeled at the news, he called The Seattle Times, asking whether his story was in the files.
The newspaper generally does not name victims of sexual abuse, nor is it naming the man he accused of molesting him because he was never charged with a crime.
“I’m calling,” Michael said, “because I felt I needed to tell you.
“I had to make a statement that was a little bit more than what I had done in the past.”
A little bit odd
Richard was Michael’s longtime Scoutmaster. A single man in his 40s who lived in Seattle with his mother, he was good with kids.
One of the memories Michael has of Richard is being away at Scout camp for the first time, at age 11. He was teary and homesick, and Richard took him on a long walk, just to talk.
“It made me feel better,” Michael said. “I still feel good when I think about that. I felt a strong loyalty to him. Which is why I was so confused.”
Richard was also a little bit odd, though it was hard to really put your finger on, Michael said.
He had a habit of wrestling with the boys — and holding on way too long as he rubbed up against them, Michael recalled.
He insisted they wear shorts instead of long pants. He had strange, vaguely sexual, hand gestures. And he seemed to stare at boys in a romantic way.
Then came the night in 1981 Michael can’t forget. He was about 15. They were at “Camporee” at Fort Lewis, and Richard was sleeping in the same tent with a number of Scouts.
In the middle of the night, Michael said, Richard began masturbating, then reached into Michael’s sleeping bag to fondle him.
“I was terrified,” Michael said. “And I froze. And I just sat there and waited for the night to end.”
Even today, the memory is painful. This was a man he knew and trusted for years, a man he looked up to. Who he wanted to protect.
“My chief worry was for the Scoutmaster,” he said.
Well on his way to Eagle Scout, Michael up and quit.
“I couldn’t be around him again,” he said.
Not long after the incident, he told his mom and his pastor.
Both said they were going to report it. Michael tearfully begged them not to, and neither did.
Today, Michael knows that wasn’t the right answer. “All the adults in my life failed me at that time,” he said.
Never went away
Michael went off to college, the incident still popping in and out of his mind. After graduation, though, everything came back in a flood. He started to have nightmares, and pangs of guilt.
“My conscience was bothering me,” he said. “I was afraid it might be happening to other kids.”
He went to a therapist to talk about it.
And seven years after the incident, he called the Scouts and told them what happened.
The file on the case shows the Scouts treated Michael’s allegations seriously — but still fell short in some ways.
Initially, Richard was given an “opportunity to gracefully withdraw” from Scouting “without the slightest hint of impropriety,” documents in the file state.
Still, Richard chose to fight the charges, maintaining his innocence, hiring a lawyer and challenging the process every step of the way, the file shows.
Richard was banned from Scouting, but the organization did not appear to report the incident to authorities, according to the records.
“No legal obligation to call C.P.S.,” a note in the file reads, referring to the state’s Child Protective Services.
The Boy Scouts of America declined to comment on this specific case.
However, a spokesman Thursday said current Scouting rules would require such a report.
“In some situations,” said Ken Fields of these older cases, “the appropriate steps were not taken. To the extent that those situations occurred, the Boy Scouts of America has clearly apologized.”
As a 23-year-old just learning to make his way in the world, Michael felt OK about how his report was handled. Today, as a teacher who’s seen suspected cases of child abuse at his own school, he sees things differently.
“I think the Boy Scouts were covering themselves,” he said. “They didn’t want to report it to legal authorities because they didn’t want to make the organization look bad.
“How many other boys went through this and kept it under wraps?” he wonders.
Ultimately, Richard withdrew his appeal to stay in the Scouts. But he did not stay away from Scouting, the file shows.
After the ban
A year or two after he was banned, a report came in that a man wearing a “very old uniform” and carrying a 1948 edition of the Scouting handbook was seen at a weekend outing near Darrington. He was accompanied by two Scouts. The troop on the outing described him as “very suspicious looking.”
The man’s license plate was traced back to Richard, the file said.
The incident was “consistent with his prior activities,” a note reads.
He once again was told he was banned from Scouting.
The file recounting the case was provided to The Times by Seattle attorney Timothy Kosnoff, who obtained it and many others in the course of representing molestation victims.
The case was not among the 1,250 files released Thursday by the Oregon attorney. The searchable database includes the names of 22 “ineligible volunteers” from Washington.
Richard is now living in the Midwest in a VA home, suffering with dementia, according to his brother.
Being banned from Scouting, Gordon said, “was extremely painful and hurtful for him. He maintains his innocence to this day.”
When Michael heard about Richard’s condition, he said he felt bad.
“I don’t want him to suffer,” he said. “I just don’t want it to happen anymore. That’s really all it boils down to.”
And he still wonders whether he and the adults in his life did enough.
“This is a problem for society.”
News researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.