Chesterton Tribune

CNN: Ex-Fairhaven Academy students allege child abuse

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Amid emerging allegations of child abuse at Fairhaven Baptist Academy in unincorporated Westchester Township, the Porter County Sheriffs Police said today that it is has received no such reports.

On Sunday a large group of people staged a protest across the street from the Fairhaven property on East Oakhill Road, three days after CNN aired an installment on Thursday of its “Ungodly Discipline” series, in which seven former students at the Fairhaven Academy—including Pastor Roger Voegtlin’s two adopted children, now grown—alleged a policy of humiliating corporal punishment administered by staff to children.

Allegations Made to CNN

“These former students are speaking out, saying what they endured is beyond, way beyond, anything taught in the Bible,” CNN reporter Gary Tuchman said in his report.

Self-identified former students Alison Lavery and David Gonzalez opened their interview by accusing staff of “brainwashing” children. Lavery: “We constantly lived in fear of looking the wrong way, doing the wrong thing.” Gonzalez: “We were brainwashed. Our parents were brainwashed. You followed what Rev. Voegtlin said.”

Tuchman then broached the subject of paddling, and while Voegtlin himself “did some of the paddling,” according to former students’ reports, “most of it was done by his staff” and “in front of the whole class,” Tuchman said.

On one occasion, former student Samuel Bain said, a maintenance man at Fairhaven spanked him. “He lit into me.”

Former student Darcel McCoy, on the other hand, recounted an incident which occurred 15 years ago in Mexico during a mission trip, when an “administrator”—to punish him for an infraction—forced him to drink “liquid” until he vomited. “I’m puking, just over and over,” McCoy told Tuchman.

All seven former students interviewed on air told Tuchman that they have either attempted suicide at some point or have had suicidal thoughts.

Voegtlin Responds

Tuchman opened his interview with Voegtlin by asking him to confirm whether he was quoted correctly as saying “Children are born depraved” and are “born liars.”

Voegtlin responded: “The Bible says all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Voegtlin then said that corporal punishment is an official policy at Fairhaven Baptist Academy: “My philosophy is three swats. It should sting but not hurt.”

Tuchman next confronted Voegtlin with the former students’ allegation that corporal punishment was administered “with great effort to humiliate them.”

Voegtlin: “I suppose it is humiliation. But again humiliation is not the big thing.”

Tuchman: “God doesn’t say anything about humiliation in the Bible. Why is humiliation necessary?”

Voegtlin: “Habit.”

About Darcel McCoy’s account of his punishment during the Mexican mission trip, Voegtlin said this: “I’ve never heard that story. Darcel was a lot of trouble when he was in school. But I’m not saying that he’s totally lying about it because I don’t know. I wasn’t there.” Voegtlin added that, having now heard McCoy’s account, he plans to investigate it.

Tuchman: How does it “make you feel” to hear that seven former students have attempted or contemplated suicide?

Voegtlin: “It makes me feel bad but I really don’t believe it has anything to do with us.”

Tuchman concluded his report from Fairhaven by saying that Voegtlin characterized the former students interviewed by CNN as “malcontents or embellishing” and that Voegtlin maintained that “almost all Fairhaven students are happy.”

Anderson Cooper

Back in the studio, host Anderson Cooper asked Tuchman whether local “authorities are looking into” Fairhaven.

Tuchman: “Under state law Indiana is not allowed to oversee religious schools, so it’s very hard to have any kind of investigation of religious schools. So we don’t know if there’s any investigation. We don’t think there is.”

Police: No Reports Made

Sgt. Larry LaFlower told the Chesterton Tribune today that, “as of now,” there have been no reports of child abuse at Fairhaven made to the PCSP.

Neither Prosecuting Attorney Brian Gensel or his chief deputy, Matt Frost, was available for comment this morning.

“There certainly are a lot of happy students” at Fairhaven, Tuchman added. “We can’t characterize the percentage.”

But Tuchman said that the seven former Fairhaven students interviewed on air are only a fraction of the total number who made themselves available to speak to CNN about corporal punishment at the Academy.

And Tuchman said that before leaving Fairhaven he was presented with a souvenir of his visit by staff there: a paddle.



Posted 9/26/2011