I remember getting the call from The Coach out of the blue early in the morning of March 1st, 2004. He was frantic and panicked. He told me that The Kid had murdered his mother the previous evening and was currently on the run.
I had met The Kid in 2002 when I was helping The Coach with a football camp at his new school. He was a quiet kid and the most athletic player on the team. I knew The Coach had high hopes for his football career, but I wasn’t at a point where I saw the true connection between myself and The Kid. The Coach had already picked his next victim. The Kid and I just didn’t know it yet.
Once I got The Coach calmed down, he explained in more detail what had happened. He told he about The Kid’s abusive and alcoholic mother. He said The Kid just snapped and attacked his mother with a knife and then fled. He also explained how The Kid and him had been out on a drive earlier that spring. The Coach told The Kid about the “relationship” we had. He told him how special it had been for us. The Kid, who had a girlfriend, told him that he thought he might be bisexual. I didn’t need to hear any more to know where things lead after that conversation. I had been in that same truck on that same drive.
I heard from The Coach later that day. The Kid had been found hanging in his uncle’s house one town over. He had committed suicide. He was 17.
The Kid has been someone I could never put out of my mind. He is a guilt I carry with me on my healing journey. If I had reported him in high school, The Kid wouldn’t have ever been on that drive with him. Once he was fired in Artesia, I could have told my story to make sure he could never work again, but I wasn’t strong enough. The Coach’s years of emotional manipulation lead me to look out for him and not me. I never said anything. I fled to college. The Coach fled to the Indian Reservation and right into this kid’s life. When I wish I had the strength to disclose sooner, it is The Kid’s face I see. He was only 17. He still had so much life ahead of him.
I went deep into Google to find this kid’s full name. I only had his first name which made finding him difficult. I searched the archives of the small town newspapers in the area of the reservation. I couldn’t find anything and the small town newspapers didn’t have archives that went back that far. I got luck thought. I found a newspaper archive website that claimed to have the archives of all the New Mexico newspapers, but of course it required a subscription. I saw that I could join for a 72 hour free trial. I joined and knew I had a short period of time to get the information I needed and then cancel my account before they charged me the $100 membership fee.
It didn’t take long. Once I entered the kids first name with the key words “murder” and “suicide”, I found him and the many stories about his tragic end.
The stories of his death were so sad, but it was the other articles I found that broke my heart. The article documenting his sports career. He turned out to be the quarterback of The Coach’s team. I read about his heroics in the teams only win of their first season. I read about this quest to qualify for the State track meet in 2003. He worked hard and qualified, but didn’t place at State. He was quoted as saying he would come back strong the next year. There wasn’t an article about him that didn’t also include a quote from The Coach. The quotes talked of his potential, his work ethic, and how he was such a great kid.
I found an article of him from his church’s newsletter. He spent the summer of 2003 helping to restore an old catholic mission on the reservation. There was a picture of him with a big smile and they refurbished the adobe walls.
I do not put The Kid’s tragic fate solely on The Coach’s shoulders. The Kid had a whole deck stacked against him. His life most certainly would have been an uphill battle and that is what disgusts me. It disgusts me that The Coach used this kid’s vulnerability to build a relationship with him. He used that relationship to sexually abuse him. The kid already had a life filled with turmoil. He needed someone to help him. He needed someone to love him. He didn’t need someone to abuse him. He didn’t need someone to add even more confusion into his already turbulent life. It is this story, even above mine, that disgusts and enrages me. This story shows the magnitude of The Coach’s disgusting behavior.
I still see The Kid’s face and imagine the pain he must have been feeling as he put that noose around his neck. I couldn’t show up for him then, but I can show up for him now. I want to make sure The Coach won’t take advantage of kids anymore. I won’t allow him to prey on the vulnerability of children. His time is up.
I organized all the newspaper articles I complied into a folder on my desktop. The next day I called Jeremy, the investigator, to let him know that I found The Kid’s first and last name. He let me know that this was great news and asked if I could send him the files once we hung up. He also said this would be a good addition to the report he had already filed with the department’s prosecutor. I paused. He continued to tell me that he felt the three statements he received plus the prior action on his license was enough to take action on his license. The information on The Kid would only make the case against The Coach stronger.
I was happy to hear my efforts would help the case, but my heart still ached for The Kid. His story wasn’t even necessary to bring justice to The Coach. If I had done none of my research, my case would have been strong enough to send up the ladder, and that was devastating.
This is why I have to continue the story and the fight. The Kid is the reason why. I cannot let the 4 newspaper articles of his tragic end by the closing of his story. There is no way to know if The Coach sexually abused The Kid. That chapter was closed with a casket being lowered into the ground. But, I know. I know he was also a victim of this man, and I am connected to him much like I am to the man from my hometown. We share a bond formed in the depths of uncertainty and pain The Coach caused in each of us.
I will never forget The Kid. I will keep those stories on my desktop so I don’t forget who this journey is for. It is for me and every kid who has lived through abuse. It is for The Kid. I will take him with me on this journey and hope that somewhere in the universe he will be given a small sense of peace.
Jeremy let me know one more thing before we hung up the phone. He let me know that The Coach has been put on administrative leave until the end of the investigation. I hope he feels the walls closing in around him.
Got a message for another survivor. A woman. The same town. The same coach. She saw my Facebook post and reached out to me. There are now 3 of us.
I am not alone. I knew there were other survivors in the world. I had seen them on Oprah and documentaries. But I am not alone in my story. This is the second person who came forward, anonymously, to me that experienced the same abuse, in the same town, that I had. I am not alone in my story. I am not alone in picturing this man's face alongside every feeling of self-loathing. Both of the fellow survivors had the same "relationship" with this man and have been living with the emotional fall out for decades.
I reached out to her that afternoon and we spoke. We didn't run in the same circles in our hometown. We knew each other in the same way everyone in a small town knows each other, but we never knew we had this connection between us. Our conversation wasn't deep. It was just an acknowledgment that we both existed within the same story. We didn't share a lot of personal details about our "special time" with The Coach. We just let each other know that we "see" each other.
I left the conversation feeling proud of myself for creating space for this woman to tell her story to the investigator. For once, she got to tell her story, out loud, to someone who could actually be able to hold The Coach responsible. But I also felt something else.
You see, this is the woman, who was once the girl, that removed The Coach from my hometown. While I am not sure where she was in the grooming process, The Coach was clearly in the process of entering his next "relationship" as I left town for college. But she had a sister that fought for her. She had a sister that saw the developing odd "relationship" and knew it wasn't right. She knew there had to be more to the story. So her sister hacked her email and shared some emails with the school district that got The Coach fired. She was the reason he disappeared.
While I was proud of myself for creating space, I was still left feeling invisible. While I don't blame my family for my abuse, the remnants of sadness and resentment that no one in my family was responsible for running him out of town still exist. My complex of invisibility can be traced back to these feelings. There was no one in my life that can be blamed for my abuse. The only one to blame is The Coach. But I still yearn for those years in high school and envision someone coming in to rescue me. I wish someone had hacked my email, or followed me to his house late in the evening where he would have me park in the back so we could meet in his garage once his wife fell asleep. I know that looking back isn't healthy. But that is what I felt when hanging up from my conversation with this woman.
I am so happy she reached out to me. It helped push me to keep going in my journey to bring light to my story. But as is the case when healing from my abuse, I was left with complex and complicated feelings.
I check his district website each week to see if there have been any changes. Today I found his name missing from the staff page of the website. In fact, I couldn’t find any of his information listed anywhere on the website. I dug deeper and found an agenda to that night’s school board meeting. At the top of the agenda was an hour long closed executive session with a statute alluding to the executive meeting being closed because of attorney client privilege. My mom and I dug a little deeper and saw that statute usually applies to meeting dealing with licensure, personal changes, and firings.
This executive session could have been for something completely unrelated to my case. After seeing his missing name from their website, I have a strong feeling this session was to plan his exit. I know they would like to keep this resignation or termination quiet. Little do they know, I will not go away that quietly. Soon, I hope that State is made aware of The Coach and his actions. His day of reckoning is not quite here. He will just have to wait.
I honestly don’t know or remember much about the other man that I was convinced was abused by The Coach. I knew that he was from a prominent family in Artesia who ran in the same circles as the head coach and many other families who were considered golden legacies producing some of the town’s biggest football stars. His dad was a large football booster and this man was a decent football player at best during his time under the lights of the Bullbog Bowl. I have also heard that after I came out in the summer of 2003 he drove up and down Main Street telling anyone who listened about my coming out. I can pretty much guarantee his intentions weren’t supportive ones.
I had always wondered about this man as his relationship with The Coach.
So, I was quite surprised to see a Facebook message appear on my screen telling this man would like to send me a message. Here is what he wrote to me:
Hey Jake!! I love seeing you being happy and your beautiful family! I wasn't sure how to get ahold of you and/or if you even care but (The Coach) was a bad person to me for over 3 years in Artesia. I don't know if he was good to you or bad to you but he’s being investigated by the FBI. A student recently killed himself because of the actions of (The Coach). Anyways they are heavily investigating him all the way back to his years in Artesia and didn’t know if you might have any info. They are taking anonymous statements. Hope you continue living life with that great smile! So happy for you.
Now, the PED was investigating The Coach, not the FBI. Also, the student who killed himself was a much more complicated story than he knew. But, it shocked me that he had reached out. I wasn’t expecting to hear from him at all, but here we were.
My first thought after hearing that he reported was “we got the fucker”. I don’t know what the outcome will be, but this man’s statement made my case so much stronger. I couldn’t possibly imagine how The Coach could escape these developments.
I received sporadic messages from this man over the next few weeks, mostly sharing his anger and his desire for justice. He told me that he told his family and that they wanted to sue The Coach, Artesia, and anyone who might have known and did nothing. I felt his pain and anger. I have been on my journey for 10 months and this man was just at the start of his journey. I was surrounded by people who support me. I have a patient and supporting husband and parents who are determined to show up for me in this difficult time. I don’t know this man’s family, but I can assume, based off their very public religious and political beliefs, that this man doesn’t have the space I have to heal. I am hoping there is space created for him to cope and heal.
I believe that everyone has their own path to healing and I am sensing that this man and his family need to work through their anger towards the situation by suing and punishing everyone involved. My hope is that eventually they can heal through compassion, empathy, and love. I hope they can create a space for this man to feel supported in path to healing.
Interacting with this man helped me define my own path. I have no desire to sue or be compensated in any way. I find peace in helping to create space for others to speak their truth. I know there are other victims out there and I want to create a space where they can tell their story. I want to give a voice to every child The Coach took advantage of during his time as a trusted educator and mentor. They deserve to heard. I deserve to be heard and when this man is ready he deserves to be heard too.
I felt many emotions after receiving the initial message from this man. It has been hard to absorb his pain knowing exactly how he feels and how much hurt is inside of him. But he has his journey to follow and hopefully a new future filled with the security, happiness, and calm that comes with accepting and overcoming sexual abuse.
I am working to feel pride in the fact that I created the space for this man to report. I gathered every ounce of courage I possess and I reported The Coach, giving this man and hopefully many other a path to report. I did that.