Worker at Cape camp kills self amid abuse case investigation
Man’s mother says she long suspected son; operators had given apology to Brown
An ambulance left Camp Good News in Sandwich, where a longtime camp worker was found dead yesterday. (David G. Curran for The Globe)
Globe Staff / April 7, 2011
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SANDWICH — A longtime employee of a Christian camp killed himself yesterday, two days after prosecutors confirmed they were investigating allegations that he sexually assaulted a camper in the mid-1980s, according to authorities.
Charles “Chuck’’ Devita was found shot to death in his red pickup truck at Camp Good News. It is the same camp that apologized to US Senator Scott Brown recently after he disclosed in his autobiography that he was molested by a camp counselor four decades ago.
Late last night Devita’s mother — Sandy Devita, 61, of Tampa — said in a phone interview that she suspected her son may have been molesting children when he was in his early 20s and that she brought her concerns to the camp’s former director, Faith Willard, who said nothing was amiss.
“They said they didn’t see anything going on, basically,’’ Devita said. “They were more afraid that he was gay than that he was molesting children.’’
Camp spokeswoman Nancy Sterling said in an e-mail last night that she was unaware of Sandy Devita’s statement and could not comment. She said Willard was traveling in India.
Brown has not identified his abuser and was not at the camp with Charles Devita, 43, who is eight years his junior. But the senator’s disclosure has sparked intense scrutiny of the Cape Cod camp, prompting a former camper to come forward in recent days alleging that Devita sexually assaulted the camper when he was a boy.
Yesterday, two more men said they were molested by Devita years ago, and a third man said that another camp employee had sexually assaulted him, according to a Boston lawyer.
Cape & Islands District Attorney Michael O’Keefe and Sandwich Police Chief Peter Wack released a statement yesterday that did not identify Devita by name, saying that “the apparent victim of a self-inflicted gunshot wound’’ was found yesterday morning in a wooded area of the camp.
They described the man as a camp employee who “was the subject of a recent allegation of abuse of a child,’’ which was “of an historical nature.’’
The suicide will not end the inquiry, according to O’Keefe and Wack, who said that “any and all allegations of abuse will continue to be investigated concerning this camp.’’
Boston lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, who represents the former camper who brought the sexual abuse complaint against Devita to prosecutors Monday, confirmed that the employee who apparently killed himself was Devita.
Sandy Devita, who said she had a falling out with her son when he was 24, said she first became suspicious about him while he was attending college at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh. He had volunteered with a local Boy Scout troop after joining a service-oriented fraternity there, she said.
Devita said she recognized the signs of a possible molester because she was working at the time in a sexual abuse unit in New York City’s social services department. Her concerns continued while he was working at Camp Good News. “My gut was telling me, ‘Call the camp,’ so I called the camp,’’ she said.
She said she never contacted police herself because she had no facts to confirm her suspicions.
Regarding her son’s apparent suicide, she said: “I do believe that he did it because there was going to be more coming out. Please forgive me, but that’s how I feel.’’
Charles Devita, who is described on the camp’s website as part of the leadership team and director of the physical plant, left behind notes insisting “that he never did anything being alleged’’ and was “sick of being accused,’’ according to a law enforcement official with knowledge of the case. The official would not speak publicly about the ongoing investigation.
Devita lived on a quiet side street near the camp, located in the Forestdale section of Sandwich.
The Globe reported Tuesday that prosecutors launched an investigation into the complaint by the 36-year-old man that he was repeatedly molested at the camp when he was 10 years old by an employee who continued to work at the camp.
Yesterday, after learning of Devita’s suicide, Garabedian said: “It’s a sad situation. My client is feeling a lot of emotions right now, and he’s saddened by the circumstances.’’
Garabedian also said that two more former campers contacted him yesterday and said Devita had molested them years ago. He said a third man came forward, saying that he had been molested as a child by another former employee at the camp.
The camp issued a statement saying: “The Camp Good News family is deeply saddened by the loss of our longtime employee. Our heartfelt prayers are with Chuck’s family.’’
In his autobiography “Against All Odds,’’ released in February, Brown said he was fondled while attending a religious camp on the Cape as a child.
He did not identify the camp, but operators of Camp Good News later acknowledged that Brown attended the camp as a boy and issued an apology to him.
Yesterday, the Republican senator told the Globe: “I don’t know any facts about it, except that I understood there was a suicide at a camp down on the Cape. I don’t really have a comment on it.’’
Earlier in the day, speaking to talk show host Howie Carr on WRKO-AM radio, Brown said he would not identify his attacker or even confirm that the abuse occurred at Camp Good News. He said allegations of sexual abuse at the camp in the 1980s “had nothing to do with me.’
Brown added, “I have no evidence at all, number one, that the person who did it to me 42 years ago is even alive and, number two, that he is even doing it again.’’
Carr asked Brown whether he felt guilty about yesterday’s suicide or for not sharing information about his own sexual abuse with law enforcement.
“I’m the victim,’’ Brown replied. “I’ve felt guilty long enough. It’s taken me 42 years to come forward.’’
Campers showed up yesterday outside the camp to talk about the loss of Devita and defended him as a beloved friend, who made pizza, New York style and delicious, and could fix anything that needed repair.
“He was never that creepy guy,’’ said Andrew Iarocci, 17, who attended Camp Good News for eight years. “He was just a really beloved member of the camp community. . . . I considered him a friend.’’
Iarocci and two other teenagers said they did not believe the man they knew could have harmed anyone.
“Chuck has been a part of our lives for a while,’’ said Jessica Lynn, 17, who attended the camp for 11 years. “He was such a good guy. He really was.’’
Longtime camp volunteer Robert Werner, 77, of Pocasset, said in a phone interview that he knew Devita very well and that the allegations came as a complete shock.
“The one word that comes to mind, I’d have to say, he was a good person,’’ Werner said. “The thing that’s really preying on us is that he’s gone.’’
He said Devita must have been under tremendous stress because of the allegations.
“I can’t imagine what he felt like,’’ Werner said. “He was a sensitive person. . . . He was generous. He was kind.’’
But the allegations of abuse by Garabedian’s client were not the first time Devita has been accused of inappropriate behavior at the camp.
In 2002, former Good News counselor Charles Lewis filed a report with the Sandwich police saying that he had repeatedly found child pornography on Devita’s computer, according to Lewis.
Lewis, who worked at the camp from 1991 until 1999, said that he reported his finding to the camp’s former director, Faith Willard, but that little came of it.
“It’s tragic,’’ Lewis said yesterday of Devita’s suicide. “It’s the loss of a human life that did not need to end like this.’’
He added that if operators of the family-run camp “had done something about this years ago, it would not have happened. . . . The entire thing was avoidable.’’