‘Ted’s kids’ detail years of alleged abuse by Pingry teacher

27 April 2016 - 15:21, by , in Pingry Survivors' News, No comments

Thad Alton 1977Article from NJ.com

They were called “Ted’s kids,” or more mockingly, “Teddy’s little boys.”

“Ted,” or Thad P. Alton Jr., was a constant presence in their lives: a teacher at The Pingry School in Short Hills; their Boy Scout troop leader; and their counselor at the Maine camp where they summered.

That gave Alton nearly unlimited access to a pool of preteen boys to sexually abuse, say two men who claim they were among his victims almost 40 years ago.

In the first interviews since the scandal became public, two alleged victims described a charismatic man who created a sexualized climate in which his abuse went unchecked.

Among their allegations concerning the abuse:

  • It took place nearly everywhere Alton came in contact with them: In his assistant headmaster’s office at the Short Hills school; at Alton’s nearby house, while his wife was out and his children slept; in his car; and at a camp owned by Pingry faculty members.
  • It went on year after year. The former student who was the first to consider a lawsuit gave his attorney the names of 35 boys he alleges were either abused or witnessed abuse.
  • It took the form of oral sex Alton performed on boys as young as 5th grade – with his Scouts trained to return the favor. Sometimes the boys were urged to stimulate each other, under the guise of “games.”
  • Often, the encounters were one-on-one, but many sessions were group gatherings while camping, with Alton providing pornography to set the mood.

Alton’s attorney, Marcy McMann, of Morristown, said she and her client had no comment.

The men agreed to be interviewed for this article but asked that they not be named. One works in the counseling field out of state. The other is a physician, also living in another state.

The interviews were arranged by the legal firm expected to represent them as plaintiffs against Pingry. NJ Advance Media has confirmed both men appear on the rolls of Pingry alumni and attended school when Alton taught there.

Both are 49, and anticipate being part of a lawsuit that likely will raise the question of whether anyone at the school turned a blind eye to years of sexual abuse by a dynamic staffer.

The school recently alerted its alumni that Alton had abused students during his tenure, from 1972 through 1978. The current administration has said it is hard to determine what took place so long ago, in part because key staffers have died.

Both Pingry and The Peck School in Morristown, where Alton later taught for a year, are investigating the matter.

When told about specific new allegations, a Pingry spokeswoman said, “We are saddened and concerned that these alumni were abused by a former Pingry employee who was in a position of trust with our students in the 1970s.”

She went on to say the school hopes the two men will also contact T&M Protection Services, the private investigation firm hired by the school to determine what happened years ago.

“Our hope is for this investigation to be as thorough as possible, putting Pingry in the best position to provide support to Alton’s victims and take appropriate steps to protect children today,” the school’s statement said.

Law enforcement first became aware of Alton’s misdeeds in 1979, when Essex County court documents show he pleaded guilty to six charges stemming from a game of strip poker with three 12-year-old Pingry students that included group masturbation. He received a suspended sentence and five years’ probation.

He moved to upstate New York, where court documents indicate he was arrested again 10 years later, this time for charges of sodomy and sexual abuse involving two preteen boys. He served 5 years in prison, but according to a 2014 court document, has not committed any offense since he was released in 1995.

The physician, who was the first of Alton’s alleged victims to approach the Oregon law firm of Crew Janci a year ago, said few of his fellow Boy Scouts agreed to join the lawsuit. However, attorney Peter Janci said that since Pingry went public with its letter to alumni late last month, about a dozen men have reached out to the firm.

Both men said they chose to be a part of a lawsuit because they believe Alton was so brazen, his victims so numerous, that adults at Pingry must have known.

“It’s not like anybody ever walked in on the middle of this going on, but it was pretty close to being out in the open,” said the counselor. “It was occurring in so many different places with so many different kids, and it’s not like people weren’t talking about it.”

He recalled that at camp, the people teasing “Teddy’s little boys” were the other adult counselors.

Camp Waganaki in East Waterford, Maine, was a private camp popular with Pingry families because the camp had been owned by Pingry faculty members over the years.

Pingry teacher moved from school to school

The counselor said camping trips included gatherings in Alton’s large tent, where sexual behavior occurred during rounds of the game “Truth or Dare.” Alton, a Vietnam vet, would show postcards from his porn collection, and regale his preteen charges with tales of his sexual exploits with overseas women, he said.

The counselor recalls one of the highlights of his youth – a nearly two-week canoe trip down Maine’s famous Allagash River.

The counselor recalled the Boy Scout troop’s first stop: The boys piled into Alton’s van, which was towing a canoe rack. No sooner had they said goodbye to their parents than Alton stopped at an adult bookstore on Route 22 to load up on porn magazines, one of the men recalled.

The boys, according to the counselor, talked about these “games” and sexual encounters among themselves when Alton wasn’t around, but only obliquely.

“It wasn’t like, ‘Oh my God, there’s a crime going on over there.’ It was like, ‘They’re playing Truth or Dare over there,” the counselor said. “There were certainly discussions, but it wasn’t, ‘We should tell our parents, or the police, about this.'”

The national Boy Scouts of America said in a statement it cannot confirm Alton was a troop leader.

“The behavior included in these allegations is unacceptable and runs counter to everything for which our organization stands,” said a statement on behalf of both the national organization and the Morris County area Patriots’ Path Council.

“The safety of our youth members is of paramount importance and we seek to prevent child abuse through a comprehensive program of education on the subject, the chartered organization leader selection process, criminal background and other checks, policies and procedures to serve as barriers to abuse and the prompt mandatory reporting of any allegation or suspicion of abuse. Beyond that, we have nothing further to add at this time.”

Pingry alumni appalled by sex abuse allegations

One of Camp Waganaki’s former owners, legendary Pingry soccer coach and faculty member Miller Bugliari, said he had just learned of the allegations of conduct occurring decades ago.

“I find his alleged actions to be shocking and reprehensible,” he said of Alton in a statement provided by his attorney. “My family and I are deeply saddened and troubled by these horrific revelations, and offer our heartfelt compassion to any of his victims.”

Both alleged victims said that as boys, they were enthralled by Alton. He was larger than life, literally and figuratively: A strapping 6-foot-4, energetic and fun. Their troop won so many awards at one regional Scout gathering they were prevented from receiving any more.

“I really wanted to spend time with him. He gave you lots of attention,” said the counselor. Although Alton had sexual encounters with many of the boys, the counselor said, Alton managed to convey each relationship as special.

“This is difficult to say,” he said with a sigh, “but when he paid attention to other kids, there was somewhat of a sense of envy: ‘Why isn’t he paying attention to me?'”

The physician echoed that sentiment: “He just had this way of making you feel comfortable, and building this relationship. He’s smart. He knew his prey.”

And to be camping and canoeing with your friends for days on end, surrounded by the beauty of the Maine woods? Both say memories of those happy times sometimes trump the darker underpinning of abuse.

“Looking back, it was so messed up – but they were great summers,” said the physician.

That twisted amalgam of affection and abuse was so complex that only now, the two men said, are they beginning to understand its emotional ramifications.

Both men indicated they experienced individual sex sessions with Alton as well. The counselor recalled being pulled out of a Scout meeting in the school gymnasium on the pretext that they had to go “work on such-and-such merit badge” in his office. Once there, Alton would perform oral sex on him – he was in 5th grade – or get the boy to stimulate him, he added.

For the physician, joining Ted Alton’s scouting troop was a given: His brothers had been in the troop, and Alton’s name was revered in their home.

Alton became another father figure to him, he said. His nickname was “Bear” because he was known for his bear hugs, the physician recalled. “And in northern New Jersey in that era, to be hugged by a father figure was something,” he said.

Because the boy didn’t live near the school, he would stay after school on days when they had evening Scout meetings, hanging out with Alton. After that, he would get into Alton’s car – a version of a military jeep – and Alton would take him to dinner at a nearby Roy Rogers, where he always enjoyed an apple crisp for dessert.

On the ride home, the physician said, Alton would make the boy perform oral sex on him. “Almost as a form of payment,” he said.

Neither man interviewed for this story told his parents, they said. The physician didn’t even tell his older brothers, the ones who had been in Alton’s troop earlier.

Much of that was due to the powerful shame that comes with man-on-boy sexual abuse, he said. “The level of shame and loneliness when a boy is abused makes it harder to talk about. People think, number one, you’re gay, or number two, you’re going to be an abuser yourself,” he said. “I always thought I asked for it. I always thought it was my fault.”

He said that as an adult, he found himself obsessively following other institutions’ child abuse scandals: Jerry Sandusky at Penn State, the tales coming out of the Horace Mann School, and a lawsuit settlement with Brooklyn’s prestigious Poly Prep Country Day School over the behavior of its football coach.

Ultimately, he concluded that it was time to find out what the grown-ups knew all those years ago, so he reached out to Janci’s firm, which specializes in bringing institutions to account for abusive employees.

He said knows that might not be popular with some of Pingry’s more loyal alumni.

He’s now of an age when he wants to “clean the rafters,” as he puts it – in part to help his children understand why he’s the way he is. “I don’t think they can truly understand me without knowing what I went through,” he said. “Maybe this is why dad is so distracted, why dad is so short-tempered, why dad looks like he hasn’t slept.”

The counselor said his goal is to get a factual accounting of what happened, and to see Pingry step up to reform not only its own culture, but to perhaps become a national resource for preventing child molestation.

“Would I come forward and tell this story just to get some money? Absolutely not,” he said. “The only other choice would be to have kept silent. And I think that is absolutely the wrong choice.”

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