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Foxborough

Town files reveal little in abuse case

Photo of child molester William Sheehan who taught at the Ahern Middle School.

Foxborough School Dept.

Photo of child molester William Sheehan who taught at the Ahern Middle School.

When William E. Sheehan resigned in 1981 as Foxborough’s summer swimming director, selectmen thanked the longtime school teacher and Boy Scout leader on behalf “of all the parents” whose children were under his direction and care.

The Town of Foxborough's response to William Sheehan's resignation letter in March of 1981.

Town of Foxborough

The Town of Foxborough's response to William Sheehan's resignation letter in March of 1981.

In his resignation letter, Sheehan said he was leaving “with deep regret” to continue his teaching career in Florida, adding he would miss his Foxborough job that from the start had been “a very important and rewarding part of my life.”

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The generous tone of the correspondence, copies of which were obtained by the Globe in a Freedom of Information Act request, is an ironic contrast to the horrific accusations mounting against Sheehan since September. The 74-year-old, who now lives in a Fort Myers nursing home, is accused of sexually abusing and raping dozens of young boys on and off town property when he worked in Foxborough more than three decades ago.

Foxborough officials were asked for a copy of any and all records in the general government files, or anywhere else, that could possibly relate to the Sheehan case. But the request for information yielded just three documents: Sheehan’s March 12, 1981, letter to the Foxborough Recreation Commission resigning from his job as waterfront director at the town’s Cocasset River Park; the Foxborough Board of Selectmen’s March 18, 1981, letter to Sheehan; and a three-line entry showing Sheehan’s pay as waterfront director during the summers of 1978, 1979, and 1980, when he was on vacation from his teaching job. The document shows he was paid $179.55 for a 40-hour week in 1978, $190.40 a week in 1979, and $211.20 a week in

William Sheehan's resignation letter sent to the Town of Foxborough on march 12, 1981.

Town of Foxborough

William Sheehan's resignation letter sent to the Town of Foxborough on march 12, 1981.

1980.

Town counsel Richard Gelerman said there’s a fourth document related to Sheehan that contains either personnel information or something related to the ongoing investigation, but it will not be released. School officials have said they don’t know where Sheehan’s records are stored.

Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represents six alleged victims of Sheehan, said he wasn’t surprised the request for documents yielded so little.

“Files are sanitized, knowledgeable individuals have retired, memories fade, and institutions hide behind the cloak of confidentiality agreements,’’ Garabedian said. “Town representatives are mistaken if they think the public will believe that no town officials either knew or suspected that William Sheehan was sexually molesting children for years and years.”

In their 1981 letter to Sheehan, Foxborough’s three selectmen said they regretted his resignation as waterfront director, and thanked him “on behalf of all the parents whose children were part of the swimming program.”

“You have afforded them with peace of mind upon completion of instructions at all ages,” the selectmen wrote. “This, you realize, is most memorable in the eyes of the students themselves and is an accomplishment the Town of Foxborough can be proud of.”

The words of praise didn’t sit well with members of a local group called Survivors of Bill Sheehan, nor with James DeVellis, the current chairman of the Board of Selectmen, who said the comments from officials then and Sheehan made his skin crawl.

“It scares the hell out of me to know that an entire generation was either fooled by one man for 20-plus years, or people looked the other way,’’ DeVellis said. “This issue will not, and should not, go away, in my opinion, until we as a community get that answer.”

But getting those answers has not proven to be as easy as some might have expected, he said. “Our board is committed to that, and with the public’s help, we will get there.”

Because of what authorities say is late-stage Alzheimer’s disease, Sheehan is not likely to be prosecuted criminally. When investigators tried to interview Sheehan last fall, they said they found him unresponsive in a wheelchair. By law, a defendant must be able to participate in a case for it to go forward.

Sheehan’s family members, who include two adult sons, have repeatedly declined to comment or say whether he has legal representation.

Law enforcement officials say Sheehan sexually abused children in Foxborough between 1961, when he began teaching in the town, and 1981, when he left abruptly for Florida. More than 30 men have stepped forward with allegations of sexual abuse since September, and town police have said it’s likely there were more victims. A handful of the men say they reported the alleged abuse to Foxborough police in 1998 and are unhappy the case went nowhere then.

Recently, Foxborough Police Chief Edward O’Leary said the investigator at the time, Detective James Kozak, was a dedicated police officer who was ham-strung by the state’s statute of limitations for prosecuting such crimes. Kozak left town in 2001 to become the police chief in Millis. His contract there was not renewed in 2004.

In February, members of the Survivors of Bill Sheehan group demanded an internal investigation of the town management structure to learn how Sheehan allegedly was able to abuse so many children without detection.

In response, selectmen said a full-time police detective was on the case and an independent investigator might be added, depending on the information coming back to the town.

O’Leary said recently, however, that Detective Thomas Kirrane, the investigator assigned to the case, is not working full-time because of a previous injury and is retiring at the end of the month.

“He is finishing up cases and closing files on his desk,’’ O’Leary said. “I’ll have to transition someone else.”

Kevin Corliss, a 30-year Foxborough school maintenance employee who says he was sexually abused by Sheehan at Cocasset River Park, as well as in school buildings and during scouting excursions and sleep-overs, expressed frustration Wednesday at what he called a lack of transparency in the investigation and its “snail’s pace.”

“Everyone wants to talk a good game in front of you, but they don’t do anything about it,’’ said Corliss, a member of the survivors group. “I’m trying to give them some deference and be patient here, but my patience is running out.”

He and five other men have hired Garabedian to explore a potential civil lawsuit.

Selectmen recently held two executive sessions with O’Leary to get updates on the investigation, but nothing has been disseminated to the public. Recently, O’Leary said there was nothing he could discuss about those meetings.

DeVellis said selectmen are being very careful not to direct or interfere with how the police or the Norfolk District Attorney’s office do their work.

“When their work is concluded, we will all have a better perspective and can judge the situation,’’ he said.

A spokesman for District Attorney Michael Morrissey declined comment except to say the investigation is ongoing.

Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at michelebolton@
live.com
.

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