Remembering a Tormented Soul
In Wichita, and around the country, people remember Eric Patterson, who killed himself in 1999 after telling his parents that a priest sexually abused him.

By Stan Finger
Wichita Eagle
October 30, 2002

Members of Eric Patterson's family gathered quietly by his grave after dark Tuesday in Conway Springs, but they weren't alone in marking the third anniversary of the day the tall, troubled man took his life.

Around the country, chapters of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, observed the anniversary of Patterson's suicide with five minutes of silence beginning at noon.

Patterson was 29 when he shot himself in an east Wichita home Oct 29, 1999, ending a tortured life his family had struggled to comprehend and salvage.

Only months before his death, Patterson had told family members for the first time that he had been molested by their parish priest, Robert Larson, when he was an altar boy in their hometown of Conway Springs.

Four other men who were altar boys for Larson have also committed suicide, and SNAP director David Clohessy said the organization wanted the gesture to honor their memory.

"So many people in our organization across the country have been so moved by what's happened to the Larson victims -- and, in particular, Eric," Clohessy said.

Larson pleaded guilty to four sex crimes involving three former altar boys and a teenager he visited at the Harvey County Jail in the mid-1980s while he was pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Newton. He is serving a three- to 10-year sentence at the state prison in Lansing. Two weeks ago, the Kansas Parole Board denied Larson parole until at least 2004.

He has denied molesting Patterson or the other former altar boys who have committed suicide: Daniel Romey, Bobby Thompson, Gilbert Rodriguez and Paul Tafolla.

Janet Patterson, Eric's mother, said Tuesday's gesture by SNAP and the e-mails of support from coast to coast were "very powerful."

"It shows that all of these people genuinely care, and that the survivors are really a family," she said. "We're linked by common experience."

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