A local teacher who molested his charges was allowed to take a new job in West Virginia, where a student died in his care.
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.
PW's Taste of Philly 2014
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