NOTE: The following is a reflection written by the wife of one of the Pingry Survivors.
Dear Current Pingry Leadership,
It’s time for change.
March 28, 2016, was the day the “open letter” from The Pingry School was sent to Pingry alumni. Ever since that date, I have been consumed day and night with the story of the abuse Thad Alton committed on my husband, the other boys who attended Pingry (and its predecessor, Short Hills Country Day School). My thoughts also go to the lives that must have been impacted at the Peck School, as well as all those who suffered at Alton’s hands in New York. The countless number of boys affected is astounding. I feel an overwhelming sense of sadness, as well as a deep anger that gets more intense every day. I cannot even begin to imagine living with the horror and anguish that Alton’s victims have had to endure every day for 40 plus years. Not only did they suffer at Alton’s hands, but they were also subsequently betrayed by Pingry/SHCD and their communities.
I am dismayed by what I find out from my own research and by every new detail that comes to light in the media about what went on at Pingry/SHCD back in the 1970s. What Alton did to so many children was horrendous. He is a sick, demented individual whose actions have ruined or cut short countless lives. He took away the childhood of countless young boys along with their self-esteem, self-worth and ability to trust. He belongs in jail. It is an outrage that his NJ conviction was suspended and the Pingry/SHCD community was not notified by Pingry leadership at the time!
And what of the NY conviction? How is it possible that no one in leadership at Pingry heard of this at the time or in the decades that followed? Especially while others have spoken of this evil in hushed whispers for decades.
Pingry’s letter to the alumni stated “It is sickening that an educator, entrusted with the responsibility of protecting children, would cause such suffering. Behavior of this nature is appalling and deplorable.” That is true. But it is also appalling and deplorable that other educators at Pingry who were entrusted with the same responsibility of protecting children appear to have turned a blind eye to the warning signs and rumors. From the news coverage, it is clear that abuse took place on school grounds, during school hours and after hours; abuse took place during school-sponsored Boy Scout meetings and events; abuse that took place at Alton’s home and in “camp outs” in Alton’s backyard; abuse that took place at Camp Waganaki, which was also owned by Pingry staff. In other words, the abuse went on and on for years — with NO known intervention by trusted educators or support staff?
The difficult thing for me to comprehend is: Why? Why?? Why was there not one decent soul who stood up to stop the abuse of these innocent young boys? (And if someone did step up, why hasn’t the school released some record of it? And how would Alton have continued on as a teacher at Pingry?) I cannot imagine any job, individual, institution or reputation so important that it would be worth sacrificing even one child’s life … to have that child suffer unspeakable atrocities at such a young age that would haunt them the rest of their lives.
I can’t help but wonder if the response would have been different — if the help would have come — if it had been the child of one of the staff or administrators that had been preyed upon by Alton? Surely something would have been done?? No parents I know would have been able to look themselves in the mirror.
Per the news article dated April 8, 2016: “Headmaster Nathaniel Conard said in email earlier this week it will be difficult to ascertain what exactly was known about Alton when he worked at Pingry since both the headmaster and the Lower School principal from that era are no longer alive. Their deaths eliminated a lot of the school’s “institutional memory” about Alton’s time there, said Pingry spokeswoman Dale Seabury.”
I have to admit – I don’t understand this. At all! There are employees at Pingry today who were working at Pingry in the 1970s. What do they say? And, even if retired, there are certainly many others still living who could be called upon and interviewed for the sake of healing for the victims and safety for the future. Has that been done? What do they say?
I am encouraged and grateful for the support of alumni and members of the larger Pingry community who have stepped forward to support my husband and the other Pingry Survivors. I applaud Karin Walsh Rutledge for her willingness to ask the difficult questions during a recent Pingry event in Washington, DC. Ms. Rutledge’s question is prescient: how can it be that no one at Pingry ever heard of Alton’s multiple involvements with the criminal justice system over the past several decades? How can that be? I look forward to an answer from the current Pingry leadership, which I expect will come as the school finishes its investigation.
One thing is clear: Pingry undeniably failed the victims at the time. They lost their childhood and their communities. I wonder how much different all of these lives would have been if Pingry had done the right thing and heeded the warning signs back then? And how many other victims would have been spared if Pingry had taken action when Alton was first convicted in NJ?!
The current leadership at Pingry has an opportunity to avoid further failures today. Pingry noted in the letter to the alumni: “We will do everything in our power to support victims and their families[.]” I hope that this is true. But actions – not just words – are needed now. And this opportunity will not come again.
It’s time for a change, Pingry. I pray that you will help the victims find justice and peace.
The Wife of a Pingry Survivor