Report names 12 at Choate Rosemary Hall who allegedly abused students
A scathing report Thursday named a dozen former educators of Choate Rosemary Hall who allegedly sexually abused or assaulted students at the elite Connecticut boarding school since the 1960s, including a Spanish teacher who, witnesses said, forced a female student to engage in sex in a swimming pool while on a school trip in Costa Rica.
The report, by an investigator hired by the school, graphically recounts the experiences of 24 survivors of sexual misconduct and cites a consistent pattern: In almost all of the cases, school officials failed to report sexual misconduct to the authorities when the accusations first surfaced and quietly fired teachers or allowed them to resign.
The sexual misconduct ranged from intimate kissing to groping to sexual intercourse. It occurred from 1963 to 2010, according to a letter to members of the school community from Michael J. Carr, head of the Choate board, and Alex Curtis, headmaster. But the greatest number of reports concerned abuse in the 1980s.
In perhaps the most egregious allegation, the school failed to report the alleged 1999 assault by Jaime Rivera-Murillo, a teacher, on the 17-year-old student in Costa Rica. A male classmate of the girl allegedly tried to separate the teacher from the teen.
Rivera-Murillo was fired for “just cause’’ shortly after the alleged incident, the report said, but went on to work at other schools. He resigned as principal of Wamogo Regional High School in Litchfield, Conn., last week, according to a lawyer for the public school. Choate had recently contacted the school district.
The teacher denied the allegations when interviewed by the Choate investigator. He could not be reached for comment Thursday.
“The detailed content of this report is devastating to read,” Choate’s headmaster and the chairman of the Board of Trustees wrote in a letter accompanying the 50-page report to the school community. “One can only have the greatest sympathy and deepest concern for the survivors. The conduct of these adults violated the foundation of our community: the sacred trust between students and the adults charged with their care.”
The letter from Choate was the latest in a series of apologies by private schools in New England in recent months about educators’ sexual abuse. Dozens of schools launched investigations in response to a Globe Spotlight Team series last year that found staff at more than 110 private schools in New England had faced allegations of sexual misconduct in the previous 25 years.
Eric MacLeish, who represents a 1992 Choate graduate with whom two teachers allegedly had sexual relationships, said no other private school has named so many teachers as abusers since he began representing former students who said they had been abused about 25 years ago.
“The number of people they’ve named is absolutely extraordinary,’’ said MacLeish, a Cambridge attorney. “And it’s a credit to them.” MacLeish said he met with the investigator and “was impressed that they wanted to do this the right way.”
Choate, in Wallingford, is one of the nation’s most storied boarding schools, with alumni that include President John F. Kennedy, two-time presidential nominee Adlai Stevenson, and playwright Edward Albee.
Over the past seven months, Nancy Kestenbaum, a lawyer hired by Choate, has interviewed more than 100 individuals, including alumni, staff and trustees, and with her team reviewed more than 23,000 pages of documents.
Among the teachers named in the report:
■ John Joseph. A revered faculty member from 1944 to 1977, he taught Latin, Greek, etymology, and English and served as a housemaster. The Student Activities Center, a scholarship, and an endowed faculty chair were named for Joseph, who died in 1984. Since his death, three male graduates, from the classes of 1963, 1967, and 1970, reported to Choate that he had engaged in misconduct including fondling of a student’s genitals and asking a student to masturbate him. Last year, amid growing concern about the allegations, Choate removed his name from the student center and from other honors.
■ William Maillet. A faculty member from 1961 to 1983, Maillet taught English, coached soccer and basketball, and served as a house adviser. He died in 2012. But Choate’s headmaster in 1983 got Maillet to resign that year after another faculty member reported Maillet had made inappropriate advances toward the teacher’s 12-year-old son. Nonetheless, Maillet obtained a letter from a Choate dean recommending him for a graduate fellowship at the University of South Florida “with enthusiasm.”
■ Frederic Lyman. An English teacher, house adviser, and coach at Choate from 1980 to 1982, he allegedly engaged in sexual relationships with two 16-year-old classmates who graduated in 1983. One of the two women told the investigator that her parents complained to the school, and this led to his resignation at the end of that school year. Her report was corroborated by contemporaneous journal entries she provided to the investigator. Lyman, through his lawyer, declined to speak to the investigator. A woman who identified herself as Lyman’s wife in Concord, Mass., said he was not available and declined further comment.
■ Bjorn Runquist. A French teacher at Choate from 1981 to 1993, Runquist began a sexual relationship with an 18-year-old student before she graduated in 1992. The student, Cheyenne Montgomery, described the relationship in a Globe story last October.
Runquist, in an e-mail to the Globe last year, said that his relationship with her “was an extremely painful, utterly isolated event in my life.” School officials ultimately forced him to resign. But Choate acknowledged in the story that an administrator had written a recommendation letter for Runquist, who landed a job months later at another private school in Connecticut.
Kestenbaum, the investigator, also noted Montgomery’s allegations that she had a sexual relationship with another Choate teacher after she turned 16.
The report’s description of the alleged misconduct by Rivera-Murillo, the Spanish teacher, is particularly disturbing. A female alumna said that he forcibly engaged in anal sex with her in the swimming pool at a resort swimming pool in Costa Rica in 1999 — an account corroborated by three former classmates who said they had witnessed the episode.
One of her classmates tried to yank Rivera-Murillo off the girl, and the teacher “tried to take a swing at” him, said the report.
When Choate learned of the allegation, it sent the dean of students to Costa Rica less than 24 hours later. When Kestenbaum interviewed the former Choate teacher in March, he acknowledged drinking with the students that night but denied engaging in sexual misconduct, according to the report.
Christine Chinni, a lawyer for the public school district where Rivera-Murillo was employed until last week, told the Globe he served as principal of the Wamogo high school for less than a year and used only Rivera as his last name.
“He didn’t list Choate as a former employer when he applied,’’ Chinni said.
Since 1965, the report said, Connecticut has had a statute that requires the reporting of suspected child abuse or neglect to the Department of Children and Families. Teachers have been mandated reporters since 1967. Nonetheless, Choate did not make any reports to the DCF regarding adult sexual misconduct before 2010, when it relayed allegations about a teacher who had resigned that year, the report said.
In July and December 2016, Choate filed complaints with the DCF about incidents described in Thursday’s report. But the agency said it was not accepting the reports, sometimes indicating the former student was no longer a minor.
As in the case with alumni from other New England private schools interviewed by the Globe in recent months, some Choate graduates told the investigator that they were flattered at the time by the attention they received from faculty or staff, but later recognized that they had been abused.
Many of the victims said they did not report the misconduct at the time, fearing they would not be believed.
Although the report names a dozen educators and advisers, it said that a number of other teachers were accused of misconduct but were not identified because of insufficient corroboration or because they were less serious offenses.
Choate has set up an independent therapy fund to help alumni who suffered sexual misconduct.
Read the full report here. (Warning: The report contains graphic details.)