Letter to the Editor: A Startling Summary of events during and after the SHS soccer camp incident of August 2013  — Innocence Lost

A disturbing case of neglect, disorganization and conflict in motion

Like creatures of the wild, we as parents and family members know instinctively how to guard our children. We know how fragile their first years are, and later as they enter into a complex society – attending schools, making friends at playgrounds and joining sports organizations.

As they begin to learn gradual and monitored steps towards independence, we know they can be vulnerable and easily swayed by peers and adults.

We try our best to protect them from the harsh elements of the world and hope they can navigate safely out of harm’s way when not in our care, but the care of others we trust. Even as we try our best to shield them, they can find themselves confronted with an unforeseeable circumstance, one that would forever change their life and reshape their once destined future.

I’m about to share a story about the events which took place at the Somerville High School Soccer Camp in August 2013, in Lennox Massachusetts.

Recently, I was provided with some very sensitive and damaging information about the case. It is a court document which I have studied in its entirety and have only had in my possession for a short week. I’ll be honest, the material included in this document is difficult to read as it’s weighed heavily on my mind. But I feel it’s in the best interest of children, parents, teachers and providers, including our community leaders that some of these details must be shared.

The following is a summary and of comments included in the document. I assure you this document is legitimate and if asked, my editor will produce it upon request. If you are unfamiliar with the case, I urge you to seek out the articles from the Boston Globe and other media outlets. It will help to put this story in perspective and fill in some of the blanks. The following statements included in this story will not be found in any other media outlet, that’s why it’s important to share.

I’ve asked a couple of retired coaches who offered their opinion about this case. They agree that although hazing incidents are not uncommon, this particular case which has received a great deal of media attention, more than others, was especially egregious.

While trying to keep this in perspective, I’m reminded that – “The truth can in fact be found somewhere in the middle”. I believe it’s important to always protect children in every case, no matter the cost. While the truth is sometimes carelessly compromised for the selfish pursuits of adults, the result is a child’s innocence is left forgotten. I’m here to make sure they are not forgotten and instead hailed as the hero’s of this story for enduring a most difficult experience during a time in their life they should have been enjoying their childhood and the sport they love.

In this case, its story tends to follow a different path, one that is alleged to be cloaked in secrecy and determined above all to protect certain aspects of the case that should have remained less important—like careers and political ambitions to seek higher office.

In this tragic story, I am looking for answers to the emotional outcome and fallout of this incident and how victims and witnesses have dealt with it going forward. Also, to ask, what is the city doing to prevent these incidents from ever occurring again?

While you read comments below, please ask yourselves the following questions:

What if this were my child attending the soccer camp? What if my child was injured, traumatized, exposed and possibly coerced as a witness to falsify information or was too afraid to share the details of an incident with anyone? How would it affect their life going forward?

What innocence would be lost?

Statements in the document regarding the incidents at the soccer camp suggest there was, “a culture of hazing and sexually transgressive behavior that has existed at the camps”, as far back as 2011, and at least (50) sexual assaults occurred during the four-day event at the soccer camp in 2013.  One witness described these incidents as “weird” and “scary”, and worried about their safety. Although Anti-Hazing Pledge was distributed and signed by the players, there is information by participants to suggest that not enough was done to avoid the incidents of “hazing”.

Approximately, (170) students attended the camp in August 2013, (61) were members of the soccer teams. The ratios of chaperone’s to students were approximately, (8) chaperones to (60) students and in some cases as low as (1) chaperone to (32) students.  “Chaperones”, according to the document, “did not receive any training”, or specific schedule and guidelines and “not expected to supervise students while in their cabins”.  Parents were promised, “Coaches would supervise all players at all times”, but this did not include cabins. Students were also witnessed to coaches drinking beer, while on duty as chaperones.

Parents of soccer players were provided the Pre-Season Training Camp Notice, which stated, “coaching staff [would] supervise all players at all times”…..“the Mayor’s Camps”, as they are referred to, were established to “develop camaraderie,  among the players….and to promote team bonding for students of all ages who were allowed to visit each other in their cabins during daytime break periods”, because of his [the mayor’s]well known support and promotion for many years. As noted, the mayor has worked on a number of cases as a defense attorney including sex crime cases between 1994 – 2004. As an attorney with the expertise of this type of case work, wouldn’t it have provided the knowledge and commitment to ensure the safety of children who attended the soccer camp—including counselors left in their care who were hired to supervise students? Were the supervisors properly vetted, trained and assigned to fewer students as claimed by city officials?

What is equally as upsetting is how this incident was handled afterwards. The statements in the document suggest there was a concerted effort by coaches and members of the city administration to dissuade the students and other witnesses to discuss what happened at the soccer camp.  Some have stated that coaches attempted to dismiss the incident, when students tried to report the “assault”, referring to it as a “possible hazing incident”. Other comments included, “hazing will be charged; you may go to jail”, which led some students to believe they would be prosecuted for having been involved in hazing”.  One student shared the incident with his parent who was a teacher who reported it, as they were “mandated reporter of possible child abuse”, under Massachusetts law.

In another case,  one supervisor directed a team of students, “You guys made a really big mistake, and now there is a lot of attention on Somerville High”. Students were also told that if anyone disclosed details of the assault to anyone, they would be hit in the face. They were forbidden to post anything on social media or share with reporters.

While some of the details throughout the document are an unclear; statements suggest the administration attempted to conduct an investigation of their own prior to handing it off to members of law enforcement who had been quoted repeatedly, to allow them to handle it. One supervisor claimed to not be aware of a school policy that prohibits questioning witnesses to an alleged felony. However, he continued to hold private meetings about the assault with city officials.

Their focus quickly turned to political ambitions including –aspirations of going to the soccer championship, securing jobs of coaches and administrators, the image of the city and the upcoming soccer season. More importantly, for some, it meant a potentially harmful scandal for one who was seeking higher office.  They realized the incident could pose a “significant civil liability”, to the city and those who would share in the responsibility of not doing enough to prevent it from happening.

When discovery of the incidents were not being reported –surfaced among city officials, the supervisor responded, “We are so f_____”.

One issue was raised about the possibility of the parents of one “accused” soccer player who had previously raised concerns about the public schools in Somerville. It suggests that this conflict could have been used to provide alleged pay-back towards the parents for their outspokenness and criticisms directed at city officials.

It is alleged by the statements listed in the document that one of the supervisors had neglected to notify the authorities of the attack towards a fellow student by another student which resulted in a potentially serious injury requiring immediate medical attention.

Not the police, Department of Child and Family Services (DCF), or parents of the victim were immediately contacted to obtain medical attention for their child. The city officials instead decided to hold an emergency meeting at city hall to discuss how to deal with the “public relations crisis”.

Members of the administration quickly gathered to discuss the “crisis”, to include staff members of the communications department to be instructed to handle the press.  Specifically, the “public relations staff” would work on a response to the “public relations crisis”. Initially, they were tasked to use less alarming terms and describe it as a “hazing incident”; until they had a prime suspect and who was later charged with a felony and faced with 25 years to life in state prison charged as an adult at the age of 17.

One supervisor later admitted, they may have not had enough chaperones at the soccer camp.

As required by law, a report was later called into the DCF to file a 51 (A) report of suspected abuse of a child, by a member of the administration.

After numerous meetings by the administration to discuss the incident and who was going to be held responsible –it was decided to limit and suspend  three of the accused soccer players due to mounting concerns of civil liability and a lost season of soccer games.  They were concerned, “if police found that misconduct was widespread, the season would have to be cancelled but if limited to (3) accused, the season would go forward”.

A series of meetings with soccer players persisted coordinated and directed by members of the administration including coaches. The soccer players were warned about “rumors” of the incident at the soccer camp. They were told to approach coaches, school officials if they required a consultation.  They were also urged, “Not to discuss the assault with anyone on social media, reporters or those who were accused, forced off the team and expelled from school.

Upon the visit by a police detective of SPD, one of the coach’s stated, “a teacher had reported that their child had shared that there was a [         ] assault at the camp in the Berkshires over the weekend”. The coach also stated, “They had identified the alleged perpetrators”, while members of the city administration withheld critical information that would have helped the detectives with the case.  The detective of SPD stated the incident was out of city jurisdiction, it would therefore fall under another law enforcement agency.

The Somerville Police Detective, advised the school officials, “not to ask any more questions” of the witnesses, “because it’s not their job now that the incident is under criminal investigation”.  City officials were told by other SPO, “not to communicate with the victim of the assault or interview any of the witnesses”.

However, if all of what is included in this document has fallen into specific chronological order which I believe it has and anyone reading it would conclude – it’s alleging that members of the city administration and its assigned employees have possibly overstepped their boundaries regarding this incident.  It describes in detail the meetings soccer players were forced to attend, mandated by coaches and members of city hall prior to being questioned by law enforcement.

The officers of SPD stated, “Somerville officials, “were not supposed to investigate…that was the mantra”.  One officer ordered a member of the administration, “not to talk to any of the victims or witnesses”.

But they obviously had, long before the police got to interview them, based on the outline of meetings, the timing of when law enforcement entered into the investigation and witness accounts.

One detective stated that coaches were going forward with practices but would not discuss in detail about what had occurred at the camp. They provided their assurances to the SPD that they would refrain from any further questioning of witnesses and victims or conducting their own investigation of the soccer camp incident.

A SPD detective was the first person to notify the parents of the victim who was found in the bathroom bleeding and urged them to take their child to seek immediate medical attention.

Meetings with students persisted by the administration and they were told not to speak to the (3) accused students who were suspended — also that the 2013 soccer season was in jeopardy of being cancelled based on the findings of law enforcement and were encouraged to discuss with city officials as to their being, “confused about what happened”, and “not to open their mouths without thinking about repercussions”.

Students were told, “2013 was the year to win state championship”, and that the incident at the soccer camp would not get in the way of that. That there was only one incident, not the (50) which was allegedly reported by witnesses dating back to 2011. Coaches were concerned about the, “misconduct at the camp becoming public”.

Public Relations staff member advised the administration to, “stay ahead of the story”.  Another meeting was held by members of the administration with soccer players and their families, described in as “a tactic to gain some trust…..some who [didn’t] necessarily know [the officials].

One coach explained to police that the story had changed from, “one perpetrator and one victim to three perpetrators and three victims”, involved.

Soccer team players were again spoken to about the incident by administrators and urged, “best medicine [is] to forget about this and not talk about it”, and later told, “We know who was involved and we’ve removed them from the team”, and the incident was considered to be, “isolated”.  Families of all soccer players who attended meetings to discuss the “incident” were given tickets to a local event which was described as “tickets not cheap”.

Questions that remain: Where the victims of the soccer camp coerced in any way during the questions presented by the city officials who attended and supervised the weekend long camp?

Where interpreters interviewing parents and victims?

It was stated that, there was evidence of an, “Influence to implicate” and conflicting statements by witnesses as to the events that occurred at the soccer camp incident.

There are questionable events during the private meetings by members of the administration, to suggest at the very least, the incident and aftermath was badly mishandled.  It appears by statements made, those in charge where either unwilling to hear witness accounts of what happened, dismiss that it even occurred or have possibly been negligent throughout.

If law enforcement officials had been able to interview members who attended the soccer camp separately, without members of the administration interfering, would this outcome have been any different? Would anyone conclude that the investigation was compromised in some way? Or was it just a simple explanation of a series of miscommunications, poor judgment, failure to set forth specific rules and policies that everyone who attends “the mayor’s camps”, would obey?

But throughout the entire story, there lies the retelling of events by witnesses and an administration which seem murky. Without being there and seeing it, one is left with supposition, confusion of who is actually telling the truth because all of it has allegedly been tampered with—everything from the stories of the victims to the stories of the accused and the accounts of all the people leading the investigation as self appointed administrators up to when the police urge them to back off.

Does anyone find this an ending of a story that would be considered, “victorious”?

Sincerely,

A concerned parent

Leave a Reply