The warning, relayed to the 11-year-old boy by a fellow camper, was specific and menacing. If the assistant director of Camp Kieve in Maine invited the boy to his nearby home, the camper said, do not go.
Not long after, during the summer of 1976, the warning turned into a waking nightmare, according to a lawsuit filed in Maine on Thursday. On the sidelines of a softball game, the assistant director approached the boy and then led him home, the lawsuit alleged.
There the assistant director rubbed the boy’s back, the plaintiff, who is now 58, recalled in interviews, and then subjected him to what the lawsuit described as “sexual contact,” defined by Maine law as “touching of the genitals or anus, directly or through clothing.”
The former assistant director, William McCook Jr., now 82, said in a phone interview that the allegation “doesn’t ring any kind of a bell.” He added that until a law enforcement officer approached him about the allegation several weeks ago he had never before been accused of sex abuse.
However, the company that runs Camp Kieve acknowledged in an e-mail sent to its community on Monday that it first learned of the allegation soon after it occurred, in 1976, and fired McCook over it.
A spokesperson for Middlesex School in Concord, where McCook taught for three decades, told the Globe that the school learned of the Camp Kieve allegation in 1996. That year was McCook’s last at the school. The spokesperson declined to specify how the school learned of the allegation or why McCook stopped working there.
The plaintiff, who requested anonymity to protect his privacy, said he has come forward with his lawsuit now, nearly half a century after the alleged abuse in Maine, to seek justice while McCook is still alive. He also wants accountability from the institutions that employed him.
He has been aided by a Maine law passed in 2021 that eliminated the statute of limitations for civil claims over long ago cases of child sex abuse, making lawsuits, such as the plaintiff’s against McCook, viable in court. He said he also approached the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office with his allegation last year.
Sam Kennedy, executive director of Kieve Wavus Education said the plaintiff approached the camp last year, which prompted an internal investigation. The plaintiff said he appreciated the camp’s efforts to work with him and to “allow others who may have been abused to come forward.”
The plaintiff said he has long been haunted by the possibility that there may be other victims. The fellow camper’s warning was eerily similar to what the plaintiff experienced, he recalled. The boy even specified that McCook would rub his back, leading the plaintiff to conclude that the other boy might also have been abused at the camp, located on Damariscotta Lake in Midcoast Maine. (The fellow camper died in 1990.)
After the alleged sexual contact in 1976, McCook told the plaintiff to dress himself and return to camp, according to the lawsuit.
When he got there, he told the camper who had warned him about McCook what had happened, according to the lawsuit. The camper told his cabin counselor, 19-year-old Schuyler Tilney, the plaintiff said. Then Tilney approached the plaintiff.
“He sat me down,” the plaintiff recalled, “and asked me what happened.”
Kieve’s internal investigation confirmed Tilney’s role, said Kennedy, the executive director. After Kennedy tracked down the camp’s former lawyer, who was then dying of brain cancer, the man said that, yes, Tilney had approached his superiors about an allegation against McCook and that the camp then fired McCook. “What I really want,” Kennedy said, “is just the truth.”
Tilney, who did not respond to the Globe’s requests for comment, left a voicemail with the plaintiff’s lawyer, Tim Kenlan, last year confirming he had told his superiors, according to a transcript of the message provided to the Globe.
In the phone interview, McCook denied he was fired by the camp, saying he stopped working there because his job responsibilities at Middlesex had become more onerous and because, at 36, he had grown too old to lead the long camping excursions, which had been his favored activity.
The next summer, in 1977, the plaintiff returned to the camp and found that McCook was gone.
But there was no confirmation at the time that McCook’s exit was tied to the plaintiff’s allegation. No one from the camp ever approached the plaintiff about his allegation, he said.
In recent interviews, the plaintiff said the alleged abuse “wreaked havoc” on his life for decades. “I’ve been fortunate to have a strong marriage and a very supportive family,” he said, “but it was not a straight path.”
It poisoned his relationship with his younger sister — he bullied her for years after the alleged abuse, she said in an e-mail — and it complicated his romantic life, the plaintiff’s wife said.
Throughout his teenage years and into his twenties, he grappled alone with his memory of the abuse.
Eventually, in 1993, he told his fiancée (now-wife) about the abuse, the plaintiff and his wife recalled in interviews. She had her own secret to share. She had also been a victim of child sex abuse, committed by a relative, she recalled telling him.
“It was a lot to share,” she said. But the revelations drew them closer. “We had really similar experiences,” she said.
The next person the plaintiff told was his sister. “His motivation for telling me was to acknowledge that he knew he had bullied me, his little sister,” she wrote in an e-mail. The plaintiff said he came to understand his childhood bullying of his sister as a direct consequence of the alleged abuse.
McCook, the son of a Philadelphia fabric magnate, and the plaintiff, who grew up in Manhattan, came from the types of elite Northeast families that send their children to sleepaway camps in Maine and boarding schools in New England. (McCook had been a Kieve camper himself before becoming a counselor and assistant director.)
So it was, perhaps, not an extraordinary coincidence that the plaintiff’s sister knew McCook, or at least knew of him. While a student at Middlesex in the 1980s, she crossed paths with McCook, then a history teacher and administrator, without having the faintest idea of the abuse her brother alleges he suffered at the teacher’s hands.
Years later, she told her brother that McCook had been the house master of a dormitory, which alarmed the plaintiff and contributed to his decision to come forward. (McCook said in the interview he served as a dormitory head during most of his Middlesex career; Middlesex yearbooks also showed he served as a dormitory head.)
In 2016, after various sex abuse scandals roiled New England boarding schools, Middlesex asked alumni to come forward if they, too, had allegations, the plaintiff’s sister said. Now the plaintiff said he hopes the school will investigate McCook’s tenure.
The plaintiff said he waited so long to come forward because he has only recently begun to deal with the alleged abuse.
“I’m finally in a place where I can begin to resolve all the things, not just what happened to me, but also what happened as a result,” he said.
Jeremiah Manion of the Globe staff contributed research.
Mike Damiano can be reached at email@example.com.