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Hershey School abuse investigation lapsed

Neither local police nor officials at the Milton Hershey School followed up on a sworn allegation in 1998 that serial pedophile Charles Koons 2d had sexually molested an 8-year-old boy at the school, records and interviews show.

Middletown police mug shot of Charles Koons, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 35-100 years in prison for molesting children at the Milton Hershey School. (Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)
Middletown police mug shot of Charles Koons, who pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 35-100 years in prison for molesting children at the Milton Hershey School. (Clem Murray / Staff Photographer)Read more

Neither local police nor officials at the Milton Hershey School followed up on a sworn allegation in 1998 that serial pedophile Charles Koons 2d had sexually molested an 8-year-old boy at the school, records and interviews show.

The failure to question Koons or complete an investigation triggered by a complaint from the boy's mother gave Koons the opportunity to sexually abuse 17 other boys in the Hershey area and continue visiting the school until he was arrested in 2008.

Koons, a 40-year-old factory worker, pleaded guilty this year to molesting the 17 boys between 2002 and 2008 as well as the Hershey School boy whose mother had complained to Derry police in 1998. Koons is serving a 35- to 100-year sentence.

The sworn statement from the boy's mother was made to police in Derry Township, which has jurisdiction over Hershey. Most of the school is in the township.

The mother's statement lay dormant until police in nearby Middletown Borough finally connected the dots in Koons' serial crimes and arrested him a decade later.

Her son was among five former Hershey School students - victims of Koons' - who shared in a $3 million settlement that the nationally acclaimed free boarding school for disadvantaged children quietly paid, The Inquirer reported May 20. Those boys were molested in the 1980s and 1990s.

School officials have explained that the money was paid as compensation for the sexual abuse. A spokeswoman has said the 100-year-old institution, which is financed by profits from the Hershey Co. and has $7 billion in assets, is "brokenhearted by what happened here."

Details of the lapsed Derry investigation are the latest development in the case, according to law enforcement records and interviews with police and school officials.

A report that Derry police provided law enforcement officials - obtained by The Inquirer - indicates that two Derry detectives never interviewed Koons after receiving the mother's sworn complaint in March 1998.

The Derry investigation ended in April 1999 without an arrest - and without Hershey administrators taking any action against Koons or his mother, Dorothy Koons, who was a residence supervisor, called a relief house parent, at the school.

Her part-time position enabled her son to have access to Hershey students from 1985 to 2008. She was put on leave and then fired in 2008 after her son's arrest.

The township has asked police to review what happened with the Koons investigation, Township Supervisor Kelly Fideli said Thursday. She responded to phone calls to the Police Department.

"We hope it is done very soon," she said of the review. Three of the police officials involved with the Koons investigation no longer work in the department, she said. A township official said Friday that the Police Department was arranging interviews with the former officers involved with the Koons investigation.

Connie McNamara, the Hershey School spokeswoman, said the school had failed to adequately respond to the Derry police inquiry in the late 1990s.

"Obviously, something went wrong," she said. "We don't know exactly what happened then. We have some conflicting information, and the top administrator is no longer here."

She said the school's high-ranking board of managers had not been informed of the Koons inquiry. "If we got a call like that today," she said, "we would immediately put Mrs. Koons on leave. We would make sure any students were safe, and we would cooperate fully with police."

The Derry police report says a detective contacted a Hershey administrator, Beth Shaw, about Koons in late 1998 and early 1999. In a response Friday to requests for comments from The Inquirer, Shaw, now executive director of student support services at Hershey School, wrote in an e-mail:

"I don't have a clear recollection of everything that happened with this case 12 years ago. I have gone through the handwritten reports, and according to those reports, the last contact I have recorded with Derry Twp. Police was in December 1998. There is no resolution recorded in those notes.

"During my years at Milton Hershey School I have always worked diligently to protect our students. Since that time, I have developed a rigorous and detailed reporting protocol for the school along with strict procedures to manage incidents of this kind."

The 1,800-student school was the dream of Milton S. Hershey and his wife, Catherine. Its campus spreads over several thousand acres and contains about 145 family-style student group homes.

Koons came to the attention of Derry police in March 1998 when the mother of the boy contacted them and said her teenager had revealed during a therapy session that he had been sexually assaulted at the school in 1989, when he was 8.

The mother provided the police with a two-page sworn statement, along with the name and phone number of her son's attorney and the names of two other Hershey School boys who could have been abused by Koons in the same student group home.

The mother's statement was dated April 2, 1998, and was notarized and addressed to Detective Leslie Meals of the Derry police.

Meals wrote a narrative of the assault provided by the mother, some of the boy's history, facts on the house parents in the home, and other information. According to the description, the boy left the Hershey School in 1995 and had a troubled adolescence.

In December 1998, a Derry police sergeant noted in the report that the boy's attorney had called to ask about the status of the investigation, and that Meals had resigned from the department.

Efforts to reach Meals at her home over several days were unsuccessful.

A new detective was assigned the case. Derry police identified him only by his last name. The Derry police website lists a detective by the same last name as retiring in 1999, or about the same time as the Koons investigation. The website does not say what month in 1999 he retired.

The boy's mother called Derry police at the end of 1998. "She was extremely upset that nothing has been done and asked where the notarized statements were she had sent up here. I told her I had no idea," the new detective wrote in December 1998.

The Derry detective phoned a top administrator at the school to arrange a meeting in mid-December 1998. He called again two weeks later. The administrator told the detective to call Shaw.

The investigation seemed to be gaining momentum. The detective met with Shaw in early January 1999, according to the police report.

In February, the boy sent his own sworn statement to Derry police: "One night I was asleep. Some of the kids were on a camping trip including my roommate. That night Chuck Koens [sic] came in my room, woke me up, and told me to come with him. I had thought he was going to let me stay up and watch TV but we went to the raincoat room. He dropped his pants and took my pants down." The statement was dated Feb. 4 and notarized.

In March 1999, the Derry detective wrote: "I called Beth Shaw, and she was getting all the information I needed."

In early April 1999, the detective planned on meeting with Shaw, who told him she would be out of town. The detective hoped to meet April 12 or 13. That was the last item in the report.

A leading Pennsylvania prosecutor and expert in sex crimes who asked not to be named said Koons could have been charged for a 1989 sexual assault on an 8-year-old boy until 2001 or 2004, based on the statute of limitation laws in the 1990s. The difference in years - 2001 or 2004 - relates to the severity of the sexual assault, the prosecutor said.

Because of changes in the state's criminal code over the last decade, Koons could still be prosecuted for the 1989 attack.

McNamara, the spokeswoman, said the Hershey School now has a practice to check with the police on unfinished matters periodically.