Sheriff’s office investigates claims of sexual abuse at Lanakila camp

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/17/2019 8:51:56 PM
Modified: 5/17/2019 8:51:42 PM

FAIRLEE — The Orange County Sheriff’s Office has opened a criminal investigation into decades-old allegations of sexual abuse at Lanakila, a summer camp on Lake Morey.

Sheriff Bill Bohnyak confirmed on Friday that police are looking into allegations of misconduct brought to light by the Aloha Foundation early this year. The nonprofit oversees several camp programs in Fairlee, including the Lanakila camp for 8- to 14-year-old boys.

“There is an active investigation,” Bohnyak wrote in an email. “However, it is still active. Once that changes, we will provide a press release.”

The confirmation came after two former campers who say they were abused by counselors in the 1980s recently provided testimony to investigators. Both say they were contacted by the Orange County Special Investigations Unit in April and sat for a recorded interview with police.

“It seemed like they were really trying to go over my memories about what happened — sites, sounds, smells, anything I could remember,” said Lebanon resident Alden Hall, who spoke with investigators in Chelsea on April 23.

Hall, who is now a physician, says he was sexually abused by then-counselor John Hall — the two are not related — in 1981. A phone number listed for John Hall, who lives in Thetford, was disconnected this week and multiple emails requesting comment were not returned.

John Hall is one of three former counselors the Aloha Foundation identified as part of its two-year investigation of alleged sexual misconduct at Lanakila. That internal investigation, which was led by former New Hampshire Attorney General Michael Delaney, began in the fall of 2016 after a former staff member contacted the foundation and said it had failed to properly respond to an incident in the 1980s.

Delaney ultimately found 12 incidents of misconduct reported between the late 1970s and 1980s. The nonprofit said it also was told of an incident that took place in 1962, but declined to publicly disclose details because of “inconclusive information.”

The foundation said in a 2017 letter that John Hall inappropriately touched at least one camper in 1983, but was allowed to return to the camp “in a more restricted role” after completing treatment. He was ultimately fired in 1987 when another incident was reported, according to the letter.

While the Aloha Foundation ultimately apologized to campers and their families for failing to “receive a supportive, prompt, and immediate response” to reports of misconduct, law enforcement has declined until recently to investigate the allegations.

Bohnyak in February said his office wouldn’t be opening a case because “statute of limitations for an alleged crime is about 6 years.” On Friday, he said that judgment was a mistake.

In 2013, then-Gov. Peter Shumlin signed into law an expansion of the statute of limitations for certain crimes.

Prosecutors now have 40 years from the time a crime is committed to bring charges for lewd and lascivious conduct alleged to have been committed against a child under 18 years of age, sexual exploitation of a minor, lewd and lascivious conduct with a child and sexual exploitation of children, according to state law.

There is no statute for aggravated sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault of a child and sexual assault.

Orange County Detective Ben Herrick said it ultimately will be up to Orange County State’s Attorney William Porter to determine whether the statute of limitations applies to charges should police recommend them.

Porter said he was notified of the investigation but likely won’t learn of its findings until receiving a final report from police. At that point, he’ll work to determine whether charges can be brought.

“It’s nothing that you figure out quickly,” Porter warned.

Herrick said on Friday he isn’t sure how long the investigation will take to complete.

Christopher Overtree, executive director of the Aloha Foundation, said in an email on Thursday the nonprofit is “committed to supporting Vermont law enforcement on this matter.” The organization has not been informed or contacted as part of an active investigation, he added.

Alden Hall, the former camper, says he hopes charges ultimately will be brought against the former counselors identified in the Aloha Foundation as having abused campers.

“My hope is that something does happen, something that makes him recognize in sort of an ongoing way (the damage he caused),” he said of John Hall. “His victims have been affected in an ongoing way. It impacted me deeply and permanently.”

Former camper Timothy Light also would like to see law enforcement take action. Light, who is now a health care professional living in the Midwest, says he was abused in the early 1980s by then-counselor John Nimock.

The Aloha Foundation said it received several allegations that Nimock “took advantage of his status in the Lanakila community” to inappropriately touch children between 1977 and 1982.

Nimock, who could not be reached for comment, was then allowed to remain affiliated with the camp even after complaints were presented to Paul Pilcher, then-director of the camp and executive director of the Aloha Foundation, and Barnes Boffey, who was assistant director of Lanakila at the time. The two officials eventually fired Nimock in 1990 after receiving a letter about a 1980 incident, according to the nonprofit’s internal investigation.

Pilcher died in early 2018, and multiple attempts to reach Boffey after the Aloha Foundation detailed its findings in February were unsuccessful.

Light, the former camper, said he was contacted by investigators in mid-April. He was then visited by a detective from his home state last week.

The detective asked about the alleged abuse, he said, and then told him a video of the interview and notes would be sent to law enforcement in Vermont.

“I just hope that this trickles down somehow to the people that were actively abusing. They’re still out there,” Light said. “Forty years is too long.”

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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