A local teacher who molested his charges was allowed to take a new job in West Virginia, where a student died in his care.
Former elementary school principal Edgar Friedrichs Jr. was convicted on four felony counts of child sexual abuse in January 2002. Last year he was indicted for the 1997 murder of a 12-year-old West Virginia boy. He began his career more than 30 years ago in Prospect Park, Pa.
This is the first installment of a two-part story.
Some of the kids thought Mr. Friedrichs was mean. But Joe Stillman thought it was cool the way his fifth-grade science teacher knew so much about the human body.
So when Mr. Friedrichs asked if he'd stand in front of the class as a model for an anatomy lesson, he jumped at the chance. He went to the front of the room, where Mr. Friedrichs helped him onto the big desk, putting a hand on his waist to keep him from losing balance.
Joe was wearing his favorite cords, the ones he wore snug and low around his hips. The ridges in the fabric were thick and wide. It was 1968; he was very much in style.
Mr. Friedrichs turned Joe around so his back faced the class. Holding tight to Joe's waist, he pointed out to the class the bones of the skeletal system. Then he hooked his fingers over Joe's belt and positioned his palm so he could massage Joe's crotch as he lectured. The kids in the class couldn't see his hand because of the way Joe was facing.
Joe didn't tell anyone about that day in class until four years later when his little brother told him Mr. Friedrichs had scared the hell out of him too.
Marise Stillman's sprawling collection of miniature homes and figurines takes up the entire window seat in her dining room.
She's got colonials with painted shutters and Victorians covered in snow. A tiny gentleman bows to a lady, and children pull each other in sleighs. Prospect Park--a modest middle-class suburb of nearly 7,000 located about 10 minutes east of Philadelphia International Airport--is a lot like the old-fashioned village she created.
Marise grew up here, and when she married, she stayed to raise her three boys to be honest and smart. She was the doer in the family; her husband, the pontificator. She says her kids, dark blond and sturdy, took after her.
In many ways this little Delaware County borough was an ideal place to raise a family--safe and neighborly, though she has a hard time thinking about it that way now.
Marise Stillman remembers the day she learned her boys had been molested, but it comes back in fragments now. She was in the kitchen when they came up from the basement. John, her youngest, had something to tell her.
She doesn't remember his words--only that he had trouble getting them out. His brothers helped by standing together and pantomiming what happened at the hands of his "safety instructor," Mr. Friedrichs, the fifth-grade teacher who also directed the school's elite force of crossing guards.
John had been made to stay for detention, and then he was asked to wait behind after the other kids left. Mr. Friedrichs closed the classroom door. Standing behind the 12-year-old, he massaged his neck while telling him he shouldn't be such a "bad boy."
When Mr. Friedrichs' hands moved down his body and over his hips, John lunged for his basketball. He said he had to go, but Mr. Friedrichs offered him a ride. When the teacher's blue-and-white Pinto started moving, John started feeling nervous again. At a red light he jumped out and ducked into an alley. He ran all the way home.
Marise Stillman listened to the story in her kitchen that day with a tight jaw. She'd wanted to explode, but knew she had to stay calm. "You would not believe the anger. Rage overtakes when you learn someone has ... done something to your child."
She demanded a meeting with school officials, and an investigation was launched. John's classmates were hauled in one by one. An interview with her son John, the superintendent and the principal was set up. Within a week other parents got the same rude awakening as Marise Stillman. The fifth-grade teacher never did face his accusers or their parents, though it became clear to the families he had done much harm.