Sandusky scandal's pain extends deep into 'Penn State country'

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 21, 2011 

LOCK HAVEN, Pa. — While most of the media attention in the Penn State child sex abuse scandal has focused on the state's flagship public university, the impact can be felt in the rural communities 40 miles north of State College, where some of the alleged victims of Jerry Sandusky still live.

In these remote places, nestled between the graceful ridges of the Allegheny Mountains, almost everyone knows someone who was affected by the scandal, and whether they felt comfortable talking about it publicly or not, Penn State's pain is their pain, too.

Penn State's main campus in Centre County alone has more students than the entire population here in Clinton County, but ties to the big university run deep, and the same shock and sadness hanging over State College also shrouds the boot-shaped county's mountains and valleys.

"This is Penn State country," said Jared Conti, a Lock Haven native. "You grow up with it."

Conti attended Lock Haven University, a 4,600-student campus on the banks of the Susquehanna River. He said that most local residents are die-hard Penn State fans.

"People think you're weird if you aren't," he said.

At the heart and soul of this loyalty is football. Just open up the pages of the community newspaper, and multiple pages are devoted to football and the other sports played at the county's two main high schools.

Bucktail High School, in tiny Renovo, a onetime railroad town about 30 miles up the Susquehanna from Lock Haven, had a good football season this year, finishing 8-2. They've had even better years.

But from one end of the county to the other, everyone's talking about what happened at Central Mountain High School in Mill Hall, where Sandusky, the former Penn State defensive coordinator, volunteered as a football coach for three years.

A 23-page report by a state grand jury investigating allegations that Sandusky molested at least eight boys over a 15-year period begins with "Victim 1." Victim 1 testified that he met Sandusky as a participant in the Second Mile, a charity Sandusky founded in 1977 to help underprivileged and at-risk youth throughout Pennsylvania.

Victim 1, who was 11 or 12 when he first met Sandusky, testified that Sandusky cultivated a relationship with him, buying him gifts, taking him to restaurants and inviting him to sleep over in his basement.

The victim testified that Sandusky at first began physical contact during these sleepovers, blowing on the victim's bare stomach or "cracking" the victim's back.

Later, the victim testified, the relationship became sexual. Victim 1 told the grand jury that Sandusky performed oral sex on him more than 20 times, and that he performed oral sex on Sandusky once.

But it was very far from consensual.

"Victim 1 did not want to engage in sexual conduct with Sandusky and knew it was wrong," the grand jury report said. Though this discomfort led Victim 1 to eventually break off contact with Sandusky, the report said, Sandusky persisted.

An agent for the state attorney general's office testified that there were 61 phone calls from Sandusky's home phone to Victim 1's home phone between January 2008 and July 2009.

The grand jury report said that Victim 1 ceased contact with Sandusky when he was a freshman at Central Mountain High School, where as a volunteer coach, Sandusky had "unfettered access."

Sandusky would routinely call Victim 1 out of class to meet with him in a conference room, the grand jury report said, and no one monitored these visits. Steven Turchetta, an assistant principal at the school, told the grand jury that Sandusky was "controlling" in the mentoring relationships he established with Second Mile participants and called some of Sandusky's behavior "suspicious."

Turchetta learned of the sexual abuse allegations when Victim 1's mother called the school to report it. School district officials subsequently barred Sandusky from school property and reported the allegations to authorities, as the law requires them to do.

Turchetta could not be reached to talk about the case, and several other current employees of the school district all to declined to speak publicly about it, citing fear of discipline by school officials. The school district is the county's second largest employer.

One of Turchetta's neighbors, who declined to give his name, said there were "rumblings" that "something was funny" about Sandusky around the time he started coaching at Central Mountain, but that few people took any of the rumors seriously.

In a statement emailed to McClatchy, the Keystone Central School District said, "it would be inappropriate" to comment on the case, adding that school officials are cooperating with the investigation.

Sandusky's charity focused on helping mostly lower-income youth, often from single-parent homes. Recent census data show that Clinton County is a place where many such children live. According to census figures, more than 20 percent of the county's 39,000 residents are under 18. The county's median annual household income is well below Pennsylvania's. The county's largest employer is a manufacturer of consumer paper products, and many of the county's residents commute to work at Penn State.

The grand jury report doesn't identify where all of Sandusky's alleged victims live. McClatchy determined that at least one other victim also lives in Clinton County and attended Central Mountain High School. A woman who greeted a reporter in the driveway of the victim's residence said that neither he nor his family were interested in speaking about the case.

"He doesn't want to have anything to do with it," said the woman, who declined to give her name.

Sandusky is charged with 40 counts of child sex abuse, and a pretrial hearing is set for Dec. 7. Two former Penn State officials, athletic director Jim Curley and senior vice president for finance and business Gary Schultz, have been charged with perjury.

Because the state grand jury investigation continues, others could be charged. The headline-dominating scandal has seared Penn State's storied football program and brought down head coach Joe Paterno and university president Graham Spanier. Paterno and Spanier learned of Sandusky's alleged activities in 2002, and other Penn State officials knew about them as early as 1998, according to the grand jury report.

Much as in State College, people in Clinton County have mixed opinions about who should be held responsible for Sandusky's alleged crimes.

Emily Burnworth of Mill Hall, who graduated from Central Mountain High School, then attended college at Brigham Young University in Utah, called Paterno "a sideline player" in the scandal.

"It's difficult to watch Paterno take Sandusky's bullet," she said. "The university could have extended a bit more grace to the situation."

Barb Rauch of Renovo, however, isn't as quick to defend Paterno, who told his boss, former athletic director Curley, what he knew about Sandusky's alleged abuse, but didn't go directly to the police with it.

"I'm a mother," said Rauch, who has four daughters and a grandson. "No excuses." Rauch said it wasn't enough for Paterno to tell his superior. If a public school teacher were accused of abusing children, that wouldn't cut it, she said.

"This teacher still works here, but I told the principal?" she said. "It's surprising to see such strong support for Paterno."

People do generally agree on one thing, however: there's a lot of blame to go around.

"Everybody's passing the buck," said a woman who was knitting with a group of friends inside a Lock Haven coffee shop but declined to give her name. She said it was time to move past the scandal and make sure it doesn't happen again.

"Help the victims first, then change the law," she said.

MORE FROM MCCLATCHY

Penn State's Sandusky took out mortgage just as sex-abuse inquiry began

Sandusky's NBC interview possible confession to sex crime under Pa. law

Penn State officials weren't the only people who failed to report Sandusky

At last home game of season, abuse scandal clouds Penn State's future

McClatchy Washington Bureau is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service