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Horace Mann Staff Abused 25 Students But Can't Be Prosecuted, Bronx DA Says

By  Nicole Bode Janon Fisher and Ben Fractenberg | April 26, 2013 2:46pm | Updated on April 26, 2013 4:48pm

 Horace Mann in The Bronx.
Horace Mann in The Bronx.
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BRONX — Staff at elite private school Horace Mann abused at least 25 students between 1962 and 1996, and neither the staffers nor the school can be prosecuted for it because of the then-statute of limitations, the Bronx District Attorney's office revealed Friday.

Following a bombshell revelation by the New York Times Magazine about abuse at the Riverdale pre-K-12 school, members of the NYPD and the Bronx District Attorney's Office Child Abuse and Special Victims Squad spent close to a year fielding calls and traveling around the country, they said. The investigation concluded in April.

They found "a systematic pattern of alleged abuse" that unearthed more than 25 victims, some as young as 11 years old, and at least 12 separate abusers, prosecutors said.

"The reported abuse ranges from what may be characterized as inappropriate behavior to child endangerment, actual instances of sexual contact, sexual intercourse and criminal sexual acts," the DA's office said.

But because the abuse took place before the statute of limitations on sex abuse was extended to beyond five years, all of the cases are unable to be prosecuted criminally, officials said in a press release.

"I want to make sure that everyone knows that the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse is a device that protects criminals," said victim Edward Bowen, who said he was abused at 16 years old by music teacher Johannes Somary, who has since died.

More recent changes to the law, which eliminated the statute of limitations on felony sexual offenses, do not apply to the cases, prosecutors said.

"Neither of these Legislative changes provides any recourse for a prosecution of any act of past sexual abuse at Horace Mann which has currently been reported," the Bronx DA's office wrote in a press release.

The prosecutor's office refused to release the names of the alleged abusers.

"The names are not being released. These are allegations we looked into [and] we can't prosecute because of the statute of limitations," said Steven Reed, a spokesman for the DA's office. "It's a privacy issue. We can't do it."

In addition, none of the school's staff or management responsible for overseeing the abusers can be prosecuted for allegedly concealing the crimes, because under New York law, private schools are only mandated to report sexual abuse by parents or guardians to the police.

"Private school officials are not mandated reporters under this law," prosecutors said.

"In order to effectuate real change to the New York State's Mandatory Reporting Law, under the Social Services Law, the context of the abuse should be broadened to include child abuse by anyone employed by a school or occurring on school property or at a school sponsored event. Additionally, New York State's education law ought to be expanded to cover private school districts. We will press for these changes."

The school allegedly discouraged students from reporting abuse.

"The policy, in essence was not to investigate, not to call the police," said Gloria Allred, the lawyer representing 25 of the victims. "Instead it was to threaten the children that they would 'tarnish' themselves, and would have their lives destroyed if they told anyone."

The school updated its abuse policy in September 2012, after prompting from the Bronx DA, to stress reporting abuse to police.

A representative at Horace Mann declined to comment on the revelations Friday.

A mother of two current students at the school, Alicia Henderson, said that she felt that her children were safe there, particularly after a specialist came in and discussed signs of abuse with the students.

"They know everything that's going on," Henderson, a New Jersey resident, said of her sixth and ninth-grade children. "A specialist talked about how to stay safe."

Former students, now in middle age, have formed a group to provide support for the abuse victims and push for an investigation into how the abuse could have happened.

At least 25 of the victims — 22 men and three women — have called for an independent investigation into the pattern of abuse at the school.

"Many of the victims were groomed by their perpetrators," Allred said in a statement. "They were identified as being particularly vulnerable because they were having conflict with a parent or their parents might have been going through a divorce."

Some of the children lived with the alleged abusers and were abused on a daily basis, said Allred.

She said that number of victims could be as high as 30.

The majority of the abuse took place during the administration of deceased headmaster R. Inslee "Inky" Clark Jr, who was good friends with Somary, according to the lawyer.