Abuse scandal's pain extends deep into 'Penn State country'
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LOCK HAVEN, Pa. -- While most of the media attention in the Penn State University 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 are 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 in Clinton County, where Lock Haven is the county seat, 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."
Mr. Conti attended Lock Haven University, a 4,600-student campus on the banks of the Susquehanna River. He said that most local people 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. In the community newspaper, 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 former railroad town about 30 miles up the Susquehanna from Lock Haven, had a good football season this year, finishing 8-2.
But from one end of the county to the other, everyone's talking about what happened at Central Mountain High School in Mill Hall, outside Lock Haven, where Mr. 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 Mr. Sandusky molested at least eight boys over a 15-year period begins with "Victim 1." Victim 1 testified that he met Mr. Sandusky as a participant in The Second Mile, a charity Mr. Sandusky founded in 1977 to help underprivileged and at-risk youth throughout Pennsylvania.
Victim 1, who was 11 or 12 when he first met Mr. Sandusky, testified that Mr. 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 Mr. 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 Mr. Sandusky performed oral sex on him more than 20 times, and that he performed oral sex on Mr. Sandusky once.
"Victim 1 did not want to engage in sexual conduct with Sandusky and knew it was wrong," the grand jury report said. Although this discomfort led Victim 1 to eventually break off contact with Mr. Sandusky, the report said, Mr. Sandusky persisted.
An agent for the state attorney general's office testified that there were 61 phone calls from Mr. Sandusky's home phone to Victim 1's home phone from January 2008 to July 2009.
The grand jury report said that Victim 1 ceased contact with Mr. Sandusky when he was a freshman at Central Mountain High School, where as a volunteer coach, Mr. Sandusky had "unfettered access."
Mr. 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 the visits. Steven Turchetta, an assistant principal at the school, told the grand jury that Mr. Sandusky was "controlling" in the mentoring relationships he established with Second Mile participants and called some of Mr. Sandusky's behavior "suspicious."
Mr. Turchetta learned of the sexual abuse allegations when Victim 1's mother called the school to report it. Officials with the Keystone Central School District subsequently barred Mr. Sandusky from school property and reported the allegations to authorities, as the law requires them to do.
Mr. Turchetta could not be reached to talk about the case, and several other current employees of the school district all declined to speak publicly about it, citing fear of discipline by school officials. The school district is the county's second-largest employer.
In an emailed statement, the district said, "it would be inappropriate" to comment on the case. School officials are cooperating with the investigation, the statement said.
Much as in State College, people in Clinton County have mixed opinions about who should be held responsible for Mr. Sandusky's alleged crimes.
Emily Burnworth of Mill Hall, who graduated from Central Mountain High School and attended Brigham Young University in Utah, called former Penn State head football coach Joe 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 Mr. Paterno, who told his boss what he knew about Mr. Sandusky's alleged abuse but didn't go directly to the police.
"I'm a mother," said Ms. Rauch, who has four daughters and a grandson. "No excuses." She said it wasn't enough for Mr. 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 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.
First Published November 21, 2011 12:00 am