I wrote a story for the 12 September newsletter, put it aside to await further details — and forgot about it. I happened across it again after writing this week’s stories. It’s definitely not a “fun” addition to that week’s lineup, but it’s got a very important message: How two parents saved their child from being the victim of a pedophile.
Consider That a Confession
When Jonathan G. Newell of Henderson, Md., was confronted by investigators over allegations that he planted a camera to take pictures of showering children, Newell, 50, popped a camera memory chip into his mouth, chewed it up, and swallowed it. Newell had often taken children to a hunting lodge; some kids said Newell made them strip so he could “check them for ticks.” A judge gave the kids’ parents restraining orders to keep Newell away from them; Newell’s wife divorced him. “All he ever posted on Facebook was about boys,” one mother said. Investigators found a hard drive in Newell’s house that contained videos of boys showering — and Newell “checking them for ticks.” When the FBI arrived at his house to arrest him on charges of sexual exploitation of a child, Judge Jonathan G. Newell of the Caroline County Circuit Court, who was on administrative leave from his courtroom during the investigation, shot himself in the head with a .44 magnum pistol. (RC/Baltimore Sun) …Judge, Jury, and Executioner.
That’s sort of tagline that jumps immediately to mind even before I finish reading the story.
The Important Message
While the story by itself is a great object lesson for parents — that anyone can be a threat to the well-being of their children, what made me feel very good about the story was how it came to light, which was in a follow-up story in the Baltimore Sun after I wrote the summary above, and I’m glad I waited.
The family was unnamed to protect their son.
When one boy said that Judge Newell had invited him to the hunting lodge, his parents sat him down for a talk. “I know you like Judge Newell, and you think he’s a great guy, and we have no reason to think otherwise,” his mother said she told him, “but … we want to make sure that you are aware of what to look for — what to know is acceptable versus unacceptable.” After the talk, they let him go, but not alone: he went with a friend — another boy. He “loved going and hanging out with his buddies,” his mother said. He apparently went several times.
But then the boy texted his mother from the lodge with a photo. “Please tell me what this thing is. It has a camera in it and it’s plinking on and off pointed at the shower I was in. I’m scared.”
She of course immediately called her husband; they then called the father of the other boy on the trip, because he worked in law enforcement. He told them not to go straight to the cabin, but rather contact the police and guide them there. When they arrived at the cabin, “the cops came right up behind us, seven cars all at once,” the father said. “You could tell from [Newell’s] expressions and body language that someone took the wind out of his sails.”
That was when the police asked Newell about a camera that he ate the memory card. How did police know it was a camera chip? After all, they hadn’t seen it before he popped it into his mouth. They took Newell to a hospital for a CAT scan, and could see the shape of an SD card. One of the videos on the hard drive found later was of Newell himself, setting up the camera.
The mother remembered that Newell had friended her on Facebook, and made “lighthearted comments” about her son there. In hindsight, “he kind of groomed me to get to my son,” she said.
The father said that “I was one of them parents who says, ‘why does a kid need a cell phone?’ This whole scenario right here, it’s worth every penny that we paid for [it].”
The Kid is a Hero
I figure that boy will someday look online for stories about his one-time mentor. I hope he finds this page, because I want him to know he’s a hero: despite being scared, he raised the alarm. He was able to help his friends to not be victims of this pedophile. Judge Newell had graduated from secret photos and videos to touching the naked kids — the “checking for ticks” bit, as if the only places ticks burrow in is on genitals.
His parents are heroes too: they not only sat him down for what had to be an uncomfortable talk before there was any hint of a problem, they also believed him and immediately acted when he told them. And hurray for the police in little (population 4,400) Denton, Md., who believed the parents and went with them in force to the hunting lodge.
It’s the sort of talk that you should have with your kids. Or, if they’re now parents themselves, urge them to read this page so they can have such a talk with your grandkids — boys and girls. Yep, it’ll be a bit uncomfortable, but making them “aware of what to look for — what to know is acceptable versus unacceptable,” could save them from a lifetime of pain. Start with familiarizing yourself with the concept of child grooming: what the danger signs are.
It could be a family member, a friend, or even a former 23-year prosecutor turned circuit court judge who betrays their trust. They are not always male.
But if you don’t have that talk, and they are victimized later? You will hate yourself for the rest of your life for not doing it. It’s a necessary talk for all children.
“I blame myself a little bit for letting him go, in hindsight,” the boy’s father said, “but if you can’t trust your kid with a judge, who can you trust?” Mom agrees: “Everything was fine, until it wasn’t fine,” when she got the text message.
So, “unnamed boy”: if you get to this page, thank you for what you did. It was the right thing. You loved to go to the lodge with your buddies? Well, you saved them, too. That really is the right thing. I hope you realize your parents are awesome, even if not perfect all the time. They did the right thing too.
And if you’re not that unnamed boy but have lived his story yourself, I’m sorry you, too, went through being a target. But know that most adults want such criminals put in jail where they can’t harm more children. It’s hard for adults to figure out who to trust, and almost impossible for kids. It’s definitely not your fault.
“My son looked up to Jonathan as a mentor — thought he was wonderful — and I’m pretty sure he’s not going to trust many people,” his father said. “It’s going to be hard.”
But it’s worth working toward.
P.S.: If your story is more like the judge’s than the boy’s, well 1) stop it, right now, because you are causing great harm, and 2) get psychological help.
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