Mom Blames Son's Suicide on Alleged Abuse by Friar
February 4, 2013
The mother of a former Warren John F. Kennedy High School student who committed suicide in 2003 said she believes her son's death was caused by alleged sexual abuse by Brother Stephen Baker, who has been accused of abusing dozens of students in four states.
The former teacher and coach, a member of the T.O.R. Franciscan Order, committed suicide last month after his students accused him of sexual abuse.
Barbara Aponte said when the news of Baker's alleged sexual abuse at Warren JFK broke last month, the reason behind her son's 2003 suicide suddenly hit her.
"A flood of memories and images rushed at me and I was thrown right back into the agony of Luke's death as if it just occurred. What never made sense to me suddenly became clear and guilt overwhelmed me," Aponte said.
Her son, Luke Bradesku, attended JFK from 1990 to 1994. Aponte said he played football, ran track and received good grades.
"Luke spent a lot of time one-on-one with Brother Steve while he was doing odd jobs for the school. He was also brought into class with him to grade papers, was treated for injuries by him," Aponte said.
Aponte said Bradesku attempted suicide his freshman year, but survived and assured his family he was having problems adjusting to school, but eluded specifics.
Aponte said she danced with Baker at a football function and her son, who never got angry, looked at her and said "Brother Steve is a freakin' pervert." She said she thought his reaction was odd, but dropped the subject.
After graduation, Bradesku joined the Marines and then landed his dream job in Arizona, where he customized helicopters for wealthy clients and police and fire departments.
"He was a success. He didn't do drugs. He had no drinking problems, had no financial problems," Aponte said.
But when he was 26, Bradesku took his own life. Aponte said he left a vague note, citing "years of mental and emotional anguish, a desire to spare his family and friends years of shame and embarrassment, a secret he never shared, and regret that he never sought help." He asked God to forgive him and he hoped others would too.
"My world was forever changed and if I hadn't had other children, I would have followed him right out of this world. The pain is still excruciating," Aponte said in a prepared statement to the media.
Aponte said signs that pointed to her son's alleged abuse by Brother Baker became clear once other people, like Mike Munno, of Cortland, shared their experiences. She said she holds Baker and the individuals who enabled his behavior responsible, not the entire Catholic Church, JFK High School, or the other victims who held onto the painful secret.
"He had daily interaction with this man. I even recalled an angry remark he made in 2001 when I mentioned the football days and Brother Steve. All of these separate events come together to form a picture that makes me sick. My son's persistent yet well hidden impulse toward suicide became explainable," Aponte said.
Aponte said if anyone should have picked up on the abuse, it was her because she claims she was sexually abused as a child by her mother's boyfriend. She said she never told anyone about the alleged abuse she endured from second through seventh grade until she was 17, and by then, her alleged abuser was gone.
She said she told her mother, who did not believe her, and the subject was closed.
Aponte wanted to share her story to help others heal.
"It's about helping people. I can't do anything else for my son, but try and bring something good out of this mess and filth," Aponte said.
She said after the story of the alleged abuse broke, people began asking if Baker was victimizing all these boys and people were joking about him in the halls, why no one came forward and how the staff could not know.
"The joking about Brother Steve was about his obvious sexual preference. It wasn't joking about a pedophile. Had people known he was acting on his preferences with our kids, something surely would have been done," Aponte said.
She said she did not find justice in Baker's death.
"The pain Luke suffered has ended for him, but it endures for me. This is the legacy left by Brother Steve," Aponte said.
Munno, who spoke several weeks ago about his alleged abuse by Baker, said Bradesku was on the football team with him.
"When I first talked to Barbara, I felt an extreme amount of guilt once again. I do remember Luke and the personality he had. He was a good kid," Munno said.
The attorneys representing the victims, as well as the group Road to Recovery, are calling on the Youngstown Diocese to reveal all they know about Brother Baker's alleged abuse.
Youngstown Diocese Bishop George V. Murry of the Diocese of Youngstown has sent a letter to approximately 1,200 adults who were students at John F. Kennedy High School from January to June 1978 and August 1985 to January 1992, asking them to come forward if they have knowledge of abuse by Brother Stephen Baker or were abused themselves.
The Youngstown Diocese and the Third Order Regular Franciscans settled out of court with 10 former JFK students and one former St. Mary's middle school student in October for high-five figures each. Dozens from four states have alleged Baker abused them, including a Minnesota man who settled with the TOR Franciscans in 2005 for $50,000 because Baker abused him in 1977 at St. Patrick's Church in Inver Grover Heights, Minn.
Scores of former students at Johnstown, Pa.'s Bishop McCort High School have alleged abuse. The school hired an independent investigators to research the claims and at least one attorney has filed a notice of intent to sue the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese and the school.
Baker, on Jan. 26, fatally stabbed himself in the heart. He apologized in a note found next to his body, investigators said.
"Writing to these former students is something we must do in the interests of achieving full justice," Murry said in a written response on Monday. "Sexual abuse of minors is a terrible thing. It burdens us all with disappointment, sadness and deep hurt. For its victims, it can be devastating."
Murry also has written to the 11 victims who recently came forward apologizing for Brother Bakers' actions and offering to meet with them individually.
"The Diocese of Youngstown is doing all we can to ensure legal justice and personal peace for anyone who suffered abuse at the hands of Church personnel," Murry said.