“He Kind of Groomed Me to Get to My Son”

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.

The newspaper was a bit unclear, but I believe this is the photo the boy texted to his mother.

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.

Judge Newell.

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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12 Comments on ““He Kind of Groomed Me to Get to My Son”

  1. I rarely cry when reading “This is True,” but I’m on the verge of ugly crying because I’m so proud of “unnamed boy” and his parents. I’ve known too many people who were damaged by people like the judge. So glad this story has a somewhat happy ending, and love your write-up about it.

    Reply
  2. This is a great write up. It’s hard to know who to trust and who not to trust. I think some people feel like the answer is to never let your kids go anywhere without you. Although this may work, I don’t think it’s the answer. I think, as you stated, the answer is to talk to your kids. Let them know what to look for (from adults and from other kids), and most importantly, let them know that you, as their parent, are always there to listen to anything they have to share.

    Reply
  3. Thank you so much for writing this Randy, as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a schoolteacher I know first hand how easy it is to fall under the spell of a predator.

    Thanks, Daren, for weighing in from your viewpoint. -rc

    Reply
  4. T​hanks for this very important reminder to parents; it’s reminiscent of a local Orthodox Rabbi about 5-6 years ago who was caught surreptitiously filming congregants (women this time, which doesn’t make it any better) as they partook in a ritual bath. Respected members of the community can still abuse their positions of trust.

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  5. As someone who works closely with children, has had many trainings on preventing child abuse, and has also worked with kids who have been abused, please don’t be so arrogant to think you would know.

    The adults are “groomed” just as much as the children are to only see a charming, kind person who can be trusted. This person worms their way into the whole family and is a trusted member of the family.

    Also, studies have shown that majority of sexual abuse is by a family member or close friend of the family. It is someone you know, trust, and would never suspect. It is rarely a stranger. Think about that: it is someone you already know — not a stranger who walked off the street.

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  6. There are many types of abuse and the most difficult position in which the victim finds himself/herself is when those close to you don’t believe you. There’s a final group living in pain due to not being believed — the male victim of domestic violence. If a males has the guts to admit his victimhood at the hands of his wife, please believe him, he’s not lying.

    Yep, the parents here listened and took immediate action. The kid was telling the truth. -rc

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  7. Thank you for the story. I sent it to the 3 sets of parents of my “five little greats.” I am their great-aunt and they are my great-nephews and great-nieces, ages 5 to 11, so I call them my “five little greats!” I appreciate the work you do Randy, and the story here is a perfect example of how you educate us to recognize possible dangers.

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  8. Way back when, I was working at a game booth at a carnival. A man came up with what I assumed was his daughter, a really cute little blond haired 10 or so years old girl, and tried to get her to play but she didn’t want to. I paid it little attention until he came back and tried again. She still didn’t want to but there was something in her eyes. I asked her, “Isn’t this your father?” She said no and I asked, “An uncle or a friend?” She shook her head looked on the verge of tears and I told her to stay right there. In the five seconds or so my back was turned to toss my change apron back out of reach and turned around again, he was gone.

    I talked to her a little more and she told me she didn’t know where her parents were and the man had tried to get her to go home with him, so I left my booth and walked with her until we did find her parents. She finally burst into tears and ran to her mother. I called her father over and told him what I knew and asked him to take her to the fair police spot to give them a description as soon as they could. I went there myself and did the same (found out the next day the father never had). I got back to my booth and was immediately fired for leaving it unattended. I wouldn’t have changed a thing even if I knew that would be the consequence ahead of time.

    Why? Because I knew that look in her eyes well. It had been me for years and years with my stepfather. Nobody ever believed me, not other adults, not the school counselor, not even the police. You see he was a high muckity muck in local financial circles and such a fine man could never do things like that. You wouldn’t even want to make a suggestion of it. By the time he retired, he was a vice president in charge of training for a major brokerage firm.

    I asked my mother once, point blank, years later if she had known what was going on (as if it was normal to whistle for your 15 year old daughter to bring him a drink when he was in the tub and then had to stay there for 15 minutes or more or to buy a twelve year old sexy babydoll nightgowns and make her wear them) and she said that she probably did but didn’t want to know, all the while cashing every big alimony and child support check she got. To give her a small excuse, she was being abused as well for all those years. Right up until the last one on her, he was good at making sure that bruises and welts didn’t show. Up until the day he died, almost thirty years ago, even though he I could have knocked him down with a little push, I was still terrified of him.

    Huge kudos for those parents to teach their child what they shouldn’t allow and to believe him when he told them about what he found, no matter who it was about, and to back their son up by calling the police right off the bat. In my book they were heroes too.

    You saved that little girl from that, or worse. Thank you for that, and for telling the story: it happens that easily. -rc

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  9. Due to predators taking advantage of the program in the past, and still trying to this day, the Boy Scouts of America have a very good Youth Protection Training online program that is required for all adult volunteers every 1-2 years. It is an excellent class and includes a section that explains how predators will in fact groom not just potential victims, but their parents as well. Anyone can take the training (a free account is required), not just registered BSA leaders, and I recommend it to all parents, grandparents, and anyone else who is responsible for the safety of a child.

    Awareness is key to avoiding being duped, and knowing how to spot signs that a person may not have good intentions. It also teaches how to prevent the kinds of situations where predators look for opportunities. It takes about 90 minutes to complete, but considering the importance and benefits, it is time well-spent. Google BSA youth protection to find the site.

    Thanks for the heads up on this. It sounds like an excellent resource. -rc

    Reply

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