By Darrell Todd Maurina
When Clovis’ Parkview Elementary Principal Linda D’Amour woke up Wednesday morning and saw her newspaper, she knew it would not be an ordinary day.
D’Amour was the principal in whom a student confided on Sept. 16, saying said she had been sexually abused at 700 E. 10th Street. That report led to an investigation revealing at least 18 victims of child sex abuse — many of them students at Parkview — and D’Amour said she had been keeping quiet about what she knew of the case for nearly two weeks.
That silence ended Wednesday with the newspaper reports, and by the end of the day, television news cameras were outside her building and the phones were buzzing with questions from concerned parents.
Police now have two men in custody charged with criminal sexual contact, Anastacio Esquebel and Bobby Martin.
Martin’s wife Jeanette is free on bond facing charges of child abuse. An arrest warrant has also been issued for a third man, Harry Robbs, on charges of criminal sexual contact.
“I didn’t know when (the story) was going to break but I knew it was going to,” D’Amour said. “When the story broke in the newspaper … was the first time our staff knew anything about this. I pulled them together before school and read them the newspaper article because I wanted them to be prepared to answer questions from parents.”
D’Amour said she has been pleasantly surprised by how the school district, police, and public have responded to the case. She credited the district’s “good touch, bad touch” curriculum with helping the young victim decide to trust school staff in reporting the sexual abuse.
“It starts in kindergarten and it’s age appropriate. It was put together by school counselors and given by the school counselor and school nurse,” D’Amour said.
While she had been trained in the procedures for sexual abuse reporting, D’Amour said was glad to see how well they worked when put to the test.
“Because of the training we’ve had (as staff) for years in Clovis schools, we immediately notified the authorities and we worked so well together. I made a couple of phone calls and within moments I had help not only from the Children, Youth, and Families Department but also the police department,” D’Amour said. “They would respond to my phone calls anytime I had a question for more information. The way the procedures worked, once I contacted them, we are trained to only take the interviews to a certain level, and then the kids are taken to a safe house for further interviews.”
Police Detective Kirk Roberts said the idea behind the “safe house” is to have children interviewed by trained staff who are not police officers and would be less threatening to children.
“Especially with victims of sexual assault but also with child victims of physical abuse or neglect, we minimize our contact with them,” Roberts said. “A lot of times you had kids or even adults being interviewed four, five, six times. They are now interviewed specifically about it only once. That’s where we deal with the kids who may be uncomfortable talking with a policeman because mommy and daddy might get in trouble.”
Clovis Superintendent Neil Nuttall said he was glad the schools recently began the “good touch, bad touch” program for students.
“It was very apparent that these students were equipped to make a report to the people they had trust in and relied upon, and that was their teachers and principal,” Nuttall said. “I feel horrible, of course, that this kind of behavior is happening but we’re pleased we’re responding to it.”
D’Amour said counseling has been made available not only to students and parents but also to teachers. For the victims, special court-appointed counselors are available to assist in putting their lives back together and dealing with the legal system.
“This was a horrible, horrible situation but it will probably strengthen our school,” D’Amour said. “For a community the size of Clovis we have an awesome support team and I don’t say that lightly because I’ve seen it in action.”
“You think things like this would happen in a big city, but I’m not sure a big city would have been as prepared as our city was,” D’Amour said.