Sexual Abuse at Choate Went On for Decades, School Acknowledges

Choate Rosemary Hall, the elite Connecticut boarding school, said on Thursday that at least 12 former teachers had sexually molested — and, in at least one case, raped — students in a pattern of abuse dating to the 1960s.

The allegations in a report prepared by an investigator for the board of trustees include instances of “intimate kissing” and “intimate touching.”

The parents of a Choate student complained to the school in the early 1980s after their daughter contracted herpes from an English teacher. And in another case, the report describes a student’s rape on a school trip to Costa Rica.

None of the teachers’ actions were reported to the police. In some cases, teachers were allowed to resign after being confronted with evidence of misconduct, and administrators wrote letters of recommendations for teachers who were fired.

Choate, in Wallingford, Conn., is a blue-blooded school whose alumni include President John F. Kennedy and his brother Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. It is the latest in a string of prestigious private academies that have faced accusations of sexual abuse by faculty members, including St. George’s School, in Rhode Island, and Horace Mann and Poly Prep in New York City.

“They are closed systems, especially residential private schools where kids are separated from their parents,” said Paul Mones, a lawyer who represents victims of sexual abuse. “It’s not like a public school, with people coming in and out all the time. There are many more opportunities for teachers to do this.”

Choate said it had been compelled to examine this ugly history in 2013, after two alumni alerted the school to sexual misconduct they had experienced as students, the report said. In 2016, The Boston Globe published an article that described abuse at the school, and shortly thereafter, Choate announced that it had appointed an investigator from the law firm Covington & Burling.

In a letter to members of the school community that accompanied the report, Michael J. Carr, the chairman of the board of trustees, and Alex D. Curtis, the headmaster, apologized and thanked the victims who came forward.

“We hope that through this report, our community can address the issue of adult sexual misconduct in a frank and direct manner,” the letter said. “Throughout this self-examination, our goal has been to come together as a community to provide validation and support to those who suffered from abuse, to learn from the past.”

The report names 12 former faculty members who it says abused students, both male and female. In some cases, faculty members had sexual relationships with students for months, some of which continued after the students left the school.

In the Costa Rica episode, a Spanish teacher named Jaime Rivera-Murillo is said to have raped a 17-year-old student in a swimming pool after drinking heavily with a group of students. Another student came to the young woman’s aid.

The next morning, students told the school’s administration what had happened, and the dean of students went to Costa Rica to investigate. Mr. Rivera-Murillo was called back to the school and fired for “just cause,” but he went on to work at several other Connecticut schools, including as the principal of a high school in Litchfield County. He resigned from that post this month after the Choate investigator contacted him and the district superintendent.

According to the report, Mr. Rivera-Murillo said he had been drinking with the students but denied any sexual misconduct.

Of the 12 former faculty members identified, five are dead. The New York Times tried to contact the remaining seven on Thursday evening, but none responded. The report said that no current faculty members were implicated in abuse, and that investigators had received no reports of episodes relating to current students.

For years, the school kept allegations of sexual misconduct from getting out, according to the report. “Sexual misconduct matters were handled internally and quietly,” it said. “Even when a teacher was terminated or resigned in the middle of the school year because he or she had engaged in sexual misconduct with a student, the rest of the faculty was told little and sometimes nothing about the teacher’s departure and, when told, was cautioned to say nothing about the situation if asked.”

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Cheyenne Montgomery with her teacher Björn Runquist at a school event in 1992. She later said he abused her.CreditCheyenne Montgomery

Cheyenne Montgomery graduated from Choate in 1992, and as a student there, she said she was abused by two teachers. In a telephone interview, Ms. Montgomery described herself as an unusual Choate student because she had very little money. The Times does not usually identify victims of sexual assault by name, but Ms. Montgomery wanted to share her story publicly.

Angus Mairs, a math teacher, encouraged students to come to him for extra help, she recounted, and during her sophomore year, he suggested that she visit him to study.

“Conversations with him started getting more personal,” she said. “He started kind of sharing information about himself and digging into information about me, mostly about my father, and kind of through that, it developed into what felt to me like a boyfriend-girlfriend situation. And it became physical.”

Mr. Mairs left Choate at the end of the school year.

During Ms. Montgomery’s senior year, she said, she was abused again, this time by a French teacher, Björn Runquist, whom she had told about the abuse she suffered at the hands of Mr. Mairs. Shortly after she graduated, Choate learned that the two had an inappropriate relationship, though the report says administrators were unaware that the relationship was sexual. The report said this prompted Mr. Runquist’s exit from the school at the end of the academic year. He “then returned to the Kent School, where he had taught before joining the Choate faculty, and from which he retired in 2013.”

Ms. Montgomery recounted her experience in the 2016 Boston Globe article.

As recently as 2010, a longtime faculty member named Charles Timlin kissed a student and made inappropriate sexual comments to her, the report said. Edward Shanahan, the headmaster at the time, is quoted as saying that Mr. Timlin had been a “25-year faculty member, great teacher, great coach, great faculty member,” and Mr. Shanahan decided that the conduct did not warrant his dismissal.

Mr. Shanahan said Mr. Timlin could stay on at Choate if he saw a psychiatrist and moved out of the girls’ dorm, where he worked as an adviser. He was also required to sign a letter of resignation, which could be used if any other accusations came to light or if the episode with the student “became more of a public matter.” In the fall of that year, the student’s father contacted the school, after which the school informed the Connecticut Department of Children and Families and dismissed Mr. Timlin, though he was paid through the end of the academic year. Mr. Shanahan could not be reached for comment.

Ms. Montgomery described the release of the report as an important step but said there was much more work to be done.

“These things were really embedded in the culture, and not just at Choate,” she said. “A lot of progress has been made, but we can’t feel like we’ve just tied this up into a tidy little gift and said, ‘It’s in the past.’ We’re talking about the past because we have to deal with this in the present.”

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