The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida on March 1, 2008 · Page A004
Get access to this page with a Free Trial

A Publisher Extra Newspaper

The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida · Page A004

West Palm Beach, Florida
Issue Date:
Saturday, March 1, 2008
Page A004
Start Free Trial

BLACK 4A pagelabeltag 4A THE PALM BEACH POST SATURDAY MARCH 1, 2008 Evidence turned disbelief to anger MAGENTA sohoMmfifil M 0 LEST from 1A tims, most ages 2 to 5. "When we first started getting the calls, I kept second-guessing myself. How can this be true? You can't think it can happen in a small community like Stuart," said Schwarz, who grew up in Martin County and had been a detective less than a year when the first cases surfaced. The 4-year-old boy named in the first arrest told investigators he was taken from the school on East 10th Street to Toward's home, where he and other children were threatened, photographed and raped with something he said felt "hot as the sun." Schwarz, Lawson, Ralicki and a few others knew the details of what had happened to the children. It was information too graphic to repeat in news accounts. It was information so disturbing that the judge who later presided in the case said he was very nearly physically ill listening to some of the testimony. "Everybody that touched this case, it changed them," Schwarz said. Lawson, who had sat on the floor of Ralicki's office and listened to the children talk of "Mr. T" and "Miss Brenda," said last week that it was hard for the community to accept even the sanitized version of the crimes. "It was a loss of innocence," Lawson said. "Suddenly, the whole nasty world just didn't feel as safe." Toward, now 77, pleaded guilty to molesting or kidnapping the six boys and was sentenced to 27 years in prison. He was released from his prison term on probation after 12 years, but has remained in custody under the state's Jimmy Ryce Act, which allows confinement of sex offenders deemed a continuing danger to the community. Toward is challenging his commitment and maintains his innocence, saying his plea was only to avoid a harsher sentence. No date has been scheduled for a civil trial on the issue. He did not respond to a request for an interview. Part of Toward's plea deal prevented prosecutors from filing more charges or arresting others they thought were involved when dozens more victims came forward later. State Attorney Bruce Colton said the case evolved from one in which Toward had legions of supporters pushing for his release to one in which the later people were frustrated they could not bring criminal charges against him. "We found there were literally dozens of kids who were affected by this guy for a long time," Colton said. "He spent his life manipulating people. He convinced people they could trust him with their children." Ralicki expects she will be called to testify at an upcoming Jimmy Ryce hearing. She says she has no doubt that Toward still poses a threat to children. She can never forget what he did to the 20 or so children she treated. She remembers when she returned to work after a two-week illness and saw the boy named in the first arrest. He looked at her and said, "I thought you were dead." When she asked why he would think that, he responded that Toward had warned the children that if they told the "secret" of the molestation, the people they cared about would die. "Toward told them he was all-powerful," she said. "Toward is a lot of things. Stupid is not one of them." Williams pleaded no contest to sex and attempted kidnapping charges involving five boys, and was released from prison in 1993 after serving five years of a 10-year sentence. She could not be reached for comment, but is listed in records as owning a home in Vero Beach. At the time of the Glendale case, few people owned computers and the Internet as we know it today did not exist. Some of the stories the children told of the bizarre things done to them seemed almost too strange to be believed. But as law enforcement agencies break up international child pornography rings and make arrests of people exchanging photographs and videotapes on the Internet, it is clear that acts that seemed outrageous when the children told of them 20 years ago are commonplace among the people who view and trade such materials. Lynn Aves was an investigator for what was then called the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services and is now called the Department of Children and Families. As the evidence mounted, Aves said, she saw the moral struggle in the community among those who knew the accusations were true and those who wanted to believe they were not. "This was a fine, upstanding man. People didn't do things like that. People are not evil and they don't victimize kids," she said. Investigators received threatening phone calls. Parents picketed the courthouse, saying the system was hurting an innocent man. HRS supervisors in West Palm Beach thought the parents supporting Toward were delusional, and told Aves to get a court order to put all of the Glendale children on a bus and take them for evaluations. Cooler heads prevailed, but Ralicki said she knows there were victims who were not treated who later had major problems coping with what had happened to them. "The majority of the children who were in treatment, who finished treat- ment, did incredibly well," she said. For years after the case was out of the 4 headlines, one of the questions asked when a child was having problems or got into trouble was whether he or she had ever attended Glendale. Some experts feared a huge backlash of emotionally 1988 Palm Beach Post file photo James Toward, Glendale Montessori headmaster, is taken to Martin County jail by Stuart Police Detective Peggy Schwarz and Larry Lawson of the state attorney's office in 1988. Timeline: An awakening to evil June 1987: Stuart police are notified of a complaint to the Florida Child Abuse Registry Hotline that a 212-year-old girl who had attended Glendale Montessori School was a possible sexual abuse victim. August: The child abuse hotline receives a call regarding possible sexual abuse of a 412-year-old boy who attended Glendale. Stuart police search James Toward's Martin Downs home and subpoena records from the East 10th Street school. March 1, 1988: Toward and school office manager Brenda Williams are arrested on charges of sexual battery, lewd and lascivious acts and kidnapping involving one former preschooler. July: Toward is charged with kidnapping and molesting five more boys, and Williams is charged in connection with four of them. May 1989: Williams pleads no contest to reduced charges in exchange for a 10-year prison term. June: On the day jury selection is scheduled to begin in his trial, Toward pleads guilty to reduced charges and is sentenced to 27 years in prison. In exchange, prosecutors promise there will be no other criminal arrests or charges in the case. July: Williams is sentenced to 10 years in prison. May 1992: A group of former Glendale parents hold a symposium with a panel of prosecutors, investigators and nationally known experts on child abuse. Hundreds of parents attend. March 1993: Williams is released from prison and moves to Vero Beach. July 1999: Martin County Circuit Judge Ben Bryan grants a civil petition from Treasure Coast prosecutors to hold Toward beyond his scheduled release date for a trial to determine whether he poses a threat to the community under the Jimmy Ryce Act. August: Toward's prison sentence ends. He is transferred to civil commitment facilities to await a civil trial on whether he should be held under the Ryce Act. Today: Toward remains in a civil commitment facility in Arcadia, awaiting the civil trial, which may take place this year. disturbed teenagers acting out because they got no treatment, but there is no evidence that happened, officials said. The father of another of the boys named in the criminal cases said his son, who is now 25 and has a son of his own, is doing great. He's in college and hopes to teach and coach kids someday. But he still dreads coming to Martin County. They recently needed to visit a lawyer in Stuart, and both got the "creeps" just driving past old, familiar landmarks. "His stomach started to bother him and he got in a great big depression," the father said of his son. "It's like you don't want to be there. You're tired of it ruining things." The grandfather of another of the original six victims said his grandson turned to drugs and alcohol as he got older. The young man, now 24, hasn't spoken to his father or grandfather in two years. "The Toward thing has just ruined that kid's life," his grandfather said. But families of the others say they are doing well. One is in medical school. Others are in college and have moved beyond the Toward case. None lives in Martin County. The mother of the boy named in the first charge said her family left Florida and hasn't even visited in 10 years. She has three other children, and made a point of volunteering or teaching in their schools when they were young. But while the victims don't forget their education in evil, they try not to let it cover everything in darkness. "I have to believe, I have to go on the premise in this life, that most people are good," the mother said this week. "On the other hand, you are never as trusting as you once were." Ralicki said she knew before the Toward case there were people who molested children. She had evaluated many victims and heard horrible stories. But the Toward case and the subsequent explosion of Internet child pornography exposed what she called the "evil ooze" of child molestation. Principals: The first victim TV March 1988: He was the first of six Glendale Montessori preschoolers named as victims of sexual battery, lewd and lascivious assault and kidnapping in criminal charges. The children described, in vivid detail, sexual assaults at the Stuart school and at Toward's Palm City home, where they were taken without their parents' knowledge. Charges involving the other children were filed in July 1988. Now: Identified by his initials in police reports, the 24-year-old is attending college in Wisconsin. He is studying environmental education and has a steady girlfriend. Quote: From his mother, 'We don't wake up and think about it every day, but it's there.' The accused James Toward March 1988: Owner and headmaster of Glendale Montessori School. Toward pleaded guilty to molesting or abducting six boys and was sentenced to 27 years in prison. Dozens more victims were precluded from bringing criminal charges because of the plea agreement. He is eligible for release from his sentence, but is being held under Florida's Jimmy Ryce Act, which allows continuing confinement for sex offenders deemed a danger to the community. Toward, now 77, is maintaining his innocence and asking for a civil trial on the issue. No date has been set. Now: Inmate 137262 at the Florida Civil Commitment Center, Arcadia. Brenda Williams March 1988: Secretary and office manager at Glendale Montessori School. Williams, now 49, pleaded no contest to reduced sex and kidnapping charges in 1989 and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. She was released in 1993 and was not subject to the Jimmy Ryce Act. Now: Has completed her probation and lives in Vero Beach. The investigators Lynn Aves March 1988: Protective investigator for the Florida Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (later renamed the Department of Children and Families) Now: Lawyer and research analyst for the Minnesota Legislature Quote: 'How did any of us comprehend it? We had to, because we saw and heard what the kids and the families were saying.' Peggy Schwarz March 1988: Detective, Stuart Police Department Now: Detective, Stuart Police Department, in the professional standards division Quote: 'It was hard to believe that people would do these kinds of things. It was reality I didn't want to believe. I wanted to be like everybody else and still believe it couldn't happen here.' Larry Lawson March 1988: Investigator with the state attorney's office, 19th Judicial Circuit Now: Director of the Region 11 Criminal Justice Academy, Indian River Community College Quote: 'Up to that point, people believed it could never happen here. ... It changed the way everybody looked at life.' The therapist Jeanne Ralicki March 1988: Therapist with the Child Protection Team Now: Psychotherapist specializing in trauma-based disorders Quote: 'For the community, it was just an incredible shock that something like that could happen in nice little Stuart. It was a loss of innocence for all of us.' "The sheer numbers. It's just shocking to me," she said. "Sometimes it might be grand to go back to 1986, before we knew all this." TAKE 40 OFF ALL JOHN CHARLES DESIGNS FLOOR SAMPLES NEW LOCATION NOW OPEN ON PALM BEACH ISLAND sonouranii At The Royal Poinciana Plaza 561.805.7345 5 JustEastifIhePiihnBaidiGrilOpen1U8pmmSat UK

Get access to

  • The largest online newspaper archive
  • 22,700+ newspapers from the 1700s–2000s
  • Millions of additional pages added every month

Publisher Extra® Newspapers

  • Exclusive licensed content from premium publishers like the The Palm Beach Post
  • Archives through last month
  • Continually updated

Try it free