Don't Ask, Don't Tell

A local teacher who molested his charges was allowed to take a new job in West Virginia, where a student died in his care.

By Aina Hunter
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 5 | Posted Sep. 22, 2004

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She decided she had a duty to tell Barber everything she knew. Only later did the weight of the child's death set in. After Barber left, she cried for days. "I was uncontrollable. It was my worst fear realized."

But first she phoned her sons, grown men now with families of their own. They were hardly eager to dredge up the disturbing past, but felt it their duty to cooperate as well.

"Initially," says Joe, who works as an electrical engineer in Philadelphia, "I wanted no one to know. But there are times you have to put your personal feelings aside to do what's right."

He told Barber how Friedrichs had made him stand on his desk that day in front of the class while he touched him, how he'd made him feel like an object.

John came forward as well, and the whole family volunteered to fly to West Virginia and testify if it ever came to that.

Then the Stillmans gave him the names of people who had a reason to know Friedrichs in any way. Barber wanted to talk with everyone--school janitors, fellow teachers, neighbors. Through their stories he'd locate clues that would lead him to the other victims.

Though it wasn't easy finding people willing to talk, most eventually did, especially after learning about the death of Jeremy Bell.

Barber's apprentice Kuharik says their success is due to her boss' careful, relentless technique: "Begin at the beginning. Be thorough. Pay attention to detail. This is what he drills into you over and over."

From the personality profile and his past experience with child molesters, Barber believed he knew exactly what he'd find in Prospect Park. Friedrichs fits the model of a "preferential pedophile" to a T, which he says made tracking easier. "They're so predictable, it's like there's a machine somewhere stamping them out," he would say.

But Jeremy's family was skeptical, and so were Barber's colleagues, says Kuharik. Although they believed Friedrichs was a molester, the idea that Barber could go back in time and find people willing to open up seemed like a stretch.

But Barber proved to be dead-on.

Former Prospect Park fourth-grade teacher Dave Lewis, who died recently at 75, was one of their first interviews. He told Barber that Friedrichs wasn't popular with the faculty. He said he'd come off as "extraordinary bland, tight and close."

But Barber soon discovered Friedrichs had displayed a more colorful side of his personality to children.

Barber spoke with dozens of former students, some by phone, others in person, and found that many remembered Friedrichs as a disciplinarian, a guy to avoid. But a few said they admired him. Being chosen for his honors class or the safety patrol unit was considered a privilege. It meant you were smart and special.

Donna Hammond was one of few girls in both of Friedrichs' groups, and though she was pleased to be chosen, she remembers that he made her feel dumb and sent her home crying nearly every day.

But the students who liked Friedrichs were in awe of his knowledge. He seemed to know everything about cells and about outer space. He could be fun too. He taught games that involved tumbling, punching and charging. When the weather turned warm, he would hang at the local pool where a lot of the kids were.

But sometimes the horseplay wasn't fun. Joe Stillman vividly remembers a drowning game he introduced at the Prospect Park Swim Club one summer. Friedrichs told Joe that he was going to duck underwater and that Joe should grab him and try to hold him under for as long as he could. But after Joe put his arms around his teacher's neck, Friedrichs flipped him over and held him under instead. When he finally let up, Joe was choking and gasping for air. Friedrichs ridiculed him for being a wuss.

Whether psychologically or physically, Joe Stillman said, Friedrichs would demoralize his victims before he groped them. "That's how he got you. He made you feel ashamed first."

But Prospect Park teacher Dave Lewis said it wasn't the roughhousing that made him question his colleague. Twice, Lewis said, he caught Friedrichs alone with a boy sitting on his lap after school. The second time, he says he told him, "Whatever kind of lap play you're doing with the youngsters, Ed, this is not right. Really. I think we should respect these kids and keep their bodies and our bodies separate."

Lewis' antenna for impropriety had been raised after a previous colleague turned out to be a molester. Lewis says he caught fifth-grade teacher Richard Rineer in the act of sexually abusing a young boy. There was a huge investigation, and Rineer's students were questioned. Eleven boys told Prospect Park police that he'd victimized them. Friedrichs was the one hired to replace him.

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COMMENTS

Comments 1 - 5 of 5
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1. Anonymous said... on Feb 16, 2011 at 11:48AM

“Where did friedricks live while he worked in Prospect Park...are there reports of him molesting in the neighborhoods (in wooded areas or on streets) at this time? Did he only molest children well known to him.”

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2. Anonymous said... on Jul 28, 2011 at 10:18AM

“He went after well groom, good standing boys. I had him when I was at Interboro (5th grade) We would everyday, have to write our letters ABCs
once we were done a page, we would take it up to him and he would correct it with the students next to him. He always always have his hand around the the boys and hold them tight while checking the work. only the boys no girls I will never forget that, never understood why he did that.
he also had the boys desk around his deck. He was a very mean teacher”

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3. Anonymous said... on Jul 28, 2011 at 10:27AM

“CON'T FROM ABOVE
Interboro knew what he was!! in my class it was a boy name Steve his father was a priest and quess who started to go to church? i know because I went to that church too! Steve's father caught on what this guy was!!
he went to the school broad back then and they did nothing about! Quess who stop going to church once Steve;s father did that! i will never forget him because is was so mean to the kids, you never step out of line with him
years later when I heard what he did the past made sense to me”

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4. Anonymous said... on Jul 28, 2011 at 10:08PM

“I heard about this, but first time I read all about it. I will never forget being in his class for math, and since I had switched schools the prior year, I was never taught short division. I was a smart kid, and rather than simply take a few minutes to teach me this after class, he put me into a lower math class (his was the highest). I liked my new Math teacher, but was bored to death!! It always bothered me why he did that. He was a popular teacher as far as I knew then, so it really made me feel bad. But alas, I am a female!! Now all is clear. Even when I became a safety, finally, as it was a coveted position, and it was full of boys, I never could see why kids thought he was so great. I hated him for putting me a dumber class, and I always thought he was mean to students. Now it all makes sense. I am horrified what he did to my classmates! I remember those huge closets, I am so sorry anyone was abused like that.”

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5. Kim said... on May 21, 2014 at 09:28PM

“I was probably one of the few female students in his "inner circle" at Prospect Park Elementary. He saw I had artistic talent so I stayed after class so he could help me with painting. And I got a ride home in the totally awesome mustang convertible (66-67). And there were times that a certain few of us (mostly boys, and me) got to have a ride to his house in Collingdale. I must say that he never approached me in an inappropriate way-but I was clearly not his ultimate interest. Words cannot express about what happened to my classmates and Jeremy Bell-it is just unbelievable and sickening.”

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