When she first heard of the Vermilion sophomore who was charged this week with multiple counts of rape, she knew.
“It’s happened again. They didn’t do what they promised they would do, and now there are more kids,” she said.
It’s been a few years now since that same boy was convicted in Erie County of sexually assaulting her son. The abuse was ongoing.
According to Detective Sgt. Dennis Papineau of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, the teen was charged in 2017 with two counts of rape and three counts of gross sexual imposition.
The victim in that case? A 6-year-old boy, Bobby.
His mother, Jade, can’t understand why this story took this turn.
Jade and Bobby are not their real name. The Chronicle-Telegram does not identify victims of sexual assault and is using a pseudonym for the boy and his mother.
“All I wanted from the court — it’s even mentioned in the records — that all I wanted was to make sure everyone knew he had done this, so it wouldn’t happen again. And they told me that was the one thing they couldn’t do, because of his age. But if he is mature enough to be convicted of doing these things, why isn’t he mature enough to be identified as a serial offender?”
In her son’s case, she was given the option of agreeing to a plea deal — something she said the prosecutor encouraged her to do, saying it was a safer option for him to plead guilty to a lesser charge of gross sexual imposition and guarantee he would be punished and treated, than risk a jury letting him go.
By that point, the case had been going on for months longer than the three to four months court representatives had told her to expect.
“I was exhausted. I was mentally exhausted. My son was so tired of going to counselors and detectives and talking about it. He would look at me and say ‘Mommy, you said that would be the last time,’” she said. “They told me (the teen) would get help. They told me and told me that 99 percent of child sex offenders can be fixed. I took the plea deal because I thought he needed help.”
Jade first discovered what had happened to her son when her former fiancé’s mother sat the couple down to tell them “what she had walked in on,” Jade said.
The woman was the mother of Jade’s fiance; Jade’s younger son is the fiance’s child. Bobby is from a previous relationship. Bobby and his younger half-brother would often go to the fiance’s mother’s home — where the accused teen and his younger siblings lived — to visit and spend the night.
She called the police — and she can still feel the fury wash over her from the morning she woke to discover that it had been listed. — giving her child’s name, address and identity as a sexual abuse victim — on a deputy’s blotter.
“I can’t tell people his rapist’s name, but they can list my child’s name?” She said. “I see all these people supporting this kid and I’m thinking how can you say that? Here he’s done all these sick, sick things and what happens when he turns 18? It won’t even be on his record? What if he goes to work in a child care center? I bet if those 12-year-old girls would have know what he did to my 5-year-old, they wouldn’t have submitted to him. Just because he’s a minor, people shouldn’t know he’s a rapist?”
Jade said she later found out that investigators were looking into allegations of sexual abuse against another child in the house. The sexual activity the woman told Jade about had occurred a few weeks earlier, between the teen’s younger siblings and Bobby.
“I started hyperventilating. My blood pressure shot up. I said, ‘How dare you not tell us?’”
She said the woman responded that she “couldn’t trust” them with the information.
Jade said she walked outside and collapsed next to her car, curled with her hands over her head and just tried to breathe, her mind reeling. She called Child Protective Services and police and investigators soon were involved.
The entire time, she was warned not to speak to her son about what had happened to him, in order not to taint his testimony. She could listen if he came to her to talk, but for months she could not ask: What happened to you?
It was detectives who eventually told her that the abuse wasn’t limited to the teen’s younger siblings — the teen himself was involved. They believe it was ongoing for months and involved a full range of sexual activity. Bobby was 5 when it began, Jade said.
By the time the boy was charged, he was 14, according to information provided by Erie County Chief Deputy Jared Oliver. Oliver said the teen was not charged in connection with sexual activity with other victims in Erie County.
When the teen appeared in court before the judge, Bobby was 7 and a different child than he had been before.
Though he wasn’t asked to speak before the court, Bobby was prepared to do so.
“He was so brave, and so intelligent and he went in there to make sure this never happened to another kid ever again, he told me,” she said.
When they began listing the details of his crimes, though, Bobby asked to leave the room.
When the judge asked him his plea to the charge of gross sexual imposition, a third-degree felony, the teen said “not guilty,” Jade said. “His lawyer had to lean over and whisper to him that he had to plead guilty, that was the deal. Even then he wasn’t taking responsibility.”
What happened next is still a mystery to Jade — and to many, it seems.
Jade said she believes he was given a minimum of six months detention in a juvenile facility. But, she said, the case was going to be transferred to another county, where he would serve his sentence. It appears the teen did not move, and Erie County Juvenile Court officials will not return calls asking for information.
The sheriff’s office does not have any information on his sentencing, but he was not labeled on any offender registry, Papineau said.
Erie County Detective Bob Rieger previously confirmed the boy was on probation at the time he was arrested last week and charged with rape, but said he did not know what he had been charged with previously.
In the meantime, the teen continued attending school at Vermilion High School, where he was a sophomore until the district moved to expel him once the new charges came to light. He faces five counts of rape from Vermilion police and one count of rape through Erie County, accused of having sex with 12-year-old girls from Sailorway Middle School.
But since the accusations surfaced, so has the question: “Why weren’t school officials notified?”
Vermilion Superintendent Phil Pempin said the district was never notified of his previous conviction. On Friday he met with Vermilion Police Chief Chris Hartung to discuss what the schools could do to improve security for a situation such as this — while both admitted there might not be much.
Schools everywhere take in kids daily who might have committed any number of offenses, and districts aren’t notified because of the nature of juvenile courts — and even if schools were told, what they could do with that information is limited due to laws that protect students’ confidentiality.
“That’s where you walk a fine line sometimes. It isn’t even a matter of protecting that kid’s rights, we didn’t even know about,” Pempin said. “You would think they would (notify schools) but that’s not the way it works, unfortunately.”
Hartung said, “That’s an excellent question and there’s no perfect answer. Lots of times juvenile cases come through and they’re sealed. There’s nothing I can do. Or they’re expunged. And how do you make the distinction if they would do it again? How do you watch for it?”
Hartung said the department is looking into whether the probation officer should have notified the school.
“What if a kid transfers here from New York with a heck of a rap sheet and you don’t know anything about him? And even if you do, you’re restricted with what what can we disseminate and what we can’t,” Hartung said. “There’s a reality we have to accept. We have to stop blaming institutions and accept personal responsibility.”
In the future, Hartung said his department will now be notifying Pempin whenever any incidents occur on school property, even after school hours. The district’s three schools are all located on one campus, with a public roadway that cuts through the nearly 80-acre property.
Some of the sexual incidents in the new rape cases are alleged to have occurred on school property, outdoors before and after school.
The district also is preparing to appoint a new school resource officer by fall. The roughly 1,950 students are currently served by one SRO, but a levy passed last fall will finance a second.
It isn’t just Vermilion’s problem — and maybe lawmakers should take a second look at the way juvenile courts are set up for serious offenses, said the district’s attorney, John Britton.
“We don’t have a right to know, and unless a judge says you can’t go back to school, we have to educate them,” Britton said. “The theory is, these are youthful indiscretions. These are children and they shouldn’t be ‘scarlet-lettered’ for life. But there’s a balancing act between our need to protect children. In this case, once it came to us, we acted (when) we had knowledge. Prior to that, we didn’t. We didn’t.”
For Jade and her two little boys, the damage left by the abuse has taken years to sort through. The broken parts are mended as best they can be for now but the question always remains: will the glue hold? Or if, once tested, will it shatter again?
“Within three months of it happening, I got a DUI. I lost my job. I didn’t work for a year,” she said. She did odd jobs to make rent and pay her bills, refusing to leave her kids with any sitter. She ended the relationship with the fiance. She withdrew into a shell, functioning enough to take care of the boys during the day and sometimes drink too much after they went to bed. It got so bad her mother called deputies to check on her once because she would leave her phone shut off for days.
Bobby was in counseling for a long time but isn’t now. He’s changed so much, getting in trouble for not turning in schoolwork. He cries a lot and is no longer the affectionate snuggler he once was. He doesn’t seem to like touch or hugging, she notices — a far difference from her younger son, who finds imagination and joy in life.
“I look at him and think I failed. My younger son is like ‘rainbows all the time’ and Bobby — it’s like he had to grow up too soon. Like he already knows the world is cold and cruel,” she said. “I don’t even want to tell him he did it again.”
She moved the family from Huron to Lorain to be near her mom, who watches the kids for her while she works, often double shifts, as a bartender, cook and waiter. And always, always, she is vigilant about her boys.
“I watch everything. I watch all the time for signs that it could happen to Bobby again, because now he’s more susceptible, and that he doesn’t use this as an excuse for bad behavior on his own. I’ve told him so many times this is not an excuse,” she said. “I know so many serial offenders say that’s why they do this, because it happened to them. But at some point in your life, that cycle has got to break.”