Author: Michael Tacke
EVANSVILLE, IND. — All nine children tell the same story, a grisly tale of being taken out of school and abused in a blue house.
They name the same culprit, a school administrator who, they say, performs satanic rituals as part of his twisted routine.
In the 14 months since the first child came forward, police said they have conducted 150 interviews and cannot substantiate the claims of the children, who range in age from 5 to 9. Prosecutor Stanley Levco is more blunt: He doesn`t believe them, and he plans to publicly clear the accused.
All agree the children have been traumatized. The problem is, no one can prove how.
“In all these cases, I don`t know of a single shred of credible, corroborating evidence,“ Levco said.
“It`s a tragedy when a child has been abused, but it would also be a tragedy to have someone falsely accused. My opinion is not that none of these children has been abused, but that they have not been abused in the way that has been said.“
The stories of the Evansville children reflect a recent, bizarre trend in child abuse cases across the country. As more children are encouraged to step forward and expose adults who hurt them, police are encountering more cases of child abuse accompanied by allegations of occult rituals.
Child abuse specialists fear that unproven allegations might reverse the progress of the last decade in bringing the sexual abuse of children to public light.
Kenneth Lanning, the FBI`s expert on cult crime, believes that in some instances, child abusers intentionally stage the rituals to cast doubt on the credibility of their victims.
“Some offenders may introduce occult into the abuse so the kids won`t be believed,“ he said. “That is their M.O. (mode of operation) . . . People are getting away with molesting children because we can`t prove there are satanic devil worshippers eating people. Pretty soon it becomes unprosecutable.“
Allegations of satanic ritual abuse of children go back centuries, but they have taken a sharp upturn since 1980. The stories have touched off panic and often damaged the reputations of innocent people and communities.
Jeffrey Victor, a sociologist at Jamestown Community College in New York, has studied 33 such stories from the late 1980s and found none to be verifiable. “Any scholar who is familiar with the blood ritual myth is well aware of how it has been used in witch hunts throughout history,“ Victor wrote.
Despite numerous claims, there has apparently been only one criminal conviction stemming from charges of satanic ritual abuse in the U.S., Lanning said.
At the same time, however, ritual violence has prompted action by state legislatures, police departments and advocacy groups across the nation. In Illinois and several other states, it is now a crime to commit violence as part of a religious ritual.
In Evansville, the children who made the allegations are all undergoing therapy after displaying such symptoms as violent behavior, sleeplessness and fear of school. Two have documented medical signs of abuse. And the troubling questions linger.
If they weren`t abused as they described, how were they abused?
And how could so many children, many of whom didn`t know one another, make up such a similar story? They said they were forced to participate in the killing of animals, that they were cut with knives, and that some of them were sexually abused. Their drawings depicted satanic symbols and people and animals being tortured.
The dilemma, Lanning said, is that cases that appear clear cut often unravel under more rigorous investigation, and supposedly independent accounts sometimes prove not to be so independent.
Five of the nine children came from only two families, and at least two unrelated girls came in contact with each other.
Further, nearly all of them were interviewed by Rick Doninger, founder of a local chapter of a child abuse rescue network, who police believe may have asked leading questions-a charge Doninger denies.
Police said these circumstances tainted the children`s claims, and they were never substantiated by other interviews or evidence.
“Every person accused was personally interviewed and gave formal statements,“ said Sgt. Larry Sparsk, who coordinated the investigation. “It just could not have happened the way the children said it happened.“
Most telling, he said, was that police determined the school administrator could not have been at the blue house when the children said he was.
Police said they wanted to search the house, but Levco said he could not in good conscience tell a judge he had probable cause to request a warrant.
Doninger is among the more vocal critics of the police and the prosecutor. He is joined by William Welborn, a lawyer, and his wife, Kathy, a paralegal. The Welborns were legal guardians of one young girl who claimed she was abused before being placed in their guardianship.
Subscribe To OurWeekly Update
Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.