Come Forward, Abuse Victims Urged
By David Hurst
November 21, 2013
Barbara Aponte said she understands all too well the consequences of silence.
The Ohio woman said her son, Luke, one of hundreds from several states alleged to have been abused by Brother Stephen Baker over a 20-year period, took his own life in 2003 after years of quietly struggling to cope with it.
It’s the reason she brought his story to Johnstown on Wednesday, hopeful those struggling in silence to deal with their own abuse will see they aren’t alone – and learn from it.
“Staying silent doesn’t help. If you don’t deal with it, it will eat at you,” said Aponte, whose son was a student at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio, during Baker’s years there. “Whether it’s you or someone you know that was abused, it’s so important that you come forward so the healing process can begin.”
Aponte’s story was part of a press conference Wednesday held by New Jersey-based nonprofit Road to Recovery Inc., which contends there are perhaps hundreds across the country, including local men and women, who still have not come forward about abuse by Baker.
“We can help,” said Robert Hoatson, the nonprofit’s founder. “We can help you begin to heal.”
It comes at a time the number of alleged victims locally has grown from a few dozen to as many as 80, and as lawsuits against Bishop McCort Catholic High School and the Altoona-Johnstown Roman Catholic Diocese continue to add up in Cambria and Blair counties.
Boston-based attorney Mitchell Garabedian said allegations against Baker stretch back as far as 1985, when parents at a Michigan school voiced concerns about Baker’s behavior.
After another parent threatened to take his concerns outside the school, Baker was transferred to John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, where Aponte’s son, Luke Bradescu, started school as a freshman in 1990.
To offset tuition, he ended up working with Baker, who Aponte said she initially saw as a “happy-go-lucky,” albeit eccentric, character.
She described her son as popular, outgoing and athletic in school. But the teen – an “A student” – abruptly ran away from home that year, taking the family car and a pile of prescription pills to Florida.
He tried to kill himself but ended up in a hospital, Aponte said. Brodescu “came back around” after a year of counseling but never went into details about what pushed him over the edge, she said, adding only that – in his words – that “it was school.”
She said the boy rarely discussed Baker but yelled angrily that the man was “a pervert” when she reminisced about a time Baker danced to AC/DC at a school function years earlier.
Brodescu also penned a story in a school journal about “weird treatments” with Baker in the training rooms, she said.
“Everyone knew he was eccentric. I had no idea all of that other stuff was going on,” she said.
In 2003, Bradescu took his life in a hotel room.
Next to him, he left only the small blue journal, said Aponte, who carried the book with her at the press conference.
It’s title: “All About Me.”
It was the last page – and the final words scribbled on it – that she said haunt her to this day.
“I know I have had mental and emotional problems for years now and I don’t like living with them,” the final page said, in handwritten ink. “I?wish I could have admitted that earlier on and gotten help.”
Hoatson worries many others like Bradescu are still fighting with the same feelings.
He said he also worries families might be quietly hurting because their son or daughter also took their lives because of sexual abuse.
“Horrible things happened,” Aponte said. “But if you’ve been assaulted, you need to realize it’s not your dirt and your burden. The dirt was on him.”