Tragedy raises questions

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 23, 2014

Tragic is the only way to describe events that unfolded last week at the City of Refuge, the school affiliated with Bible Missionary Baptist Church on Old Concord Road.
Church officials confronted house parent Danny Ray Kesler with accusations of inappropriate, sexually related contact with girls at the boarding school, according to the Rowan County Sheriff’s Office. Kesler left the building, saying he didn’t want to go to jail again, and took his life.
Jail? Again? A house parent?
To be clear, Kesler’s past convictions did not involve sex offenses, and his short stints in prison were well in the past ­— two years in the 1970s, three months in late 1998, according to the N.C. Department of Corrections website.
Still, the fact that someone with a criminal record was acting as a house parent indicates something is very wrong at the City of Refuge. Kesler’s crimes were forgery, assault, damage to property and DWI — not the kind of influence you want around children.
Again, this is a very tragic story. Keep in mind that Kesler was married, and his wife also worked as a house parent at the school. She deserves sympathy and support as she grieves her husband.
But questions have to be asked and answered, for the sake of the children at City of Refuge and the community at large. For instance, did school officials do a background check on Kesler or any of their other employees before hiring? The Department of Corrections website is an easy place to start.
And why was law enforcement called in only after Kesler shot himself? Why didn’t the school call authorities before confronting the man, when investigators might have found out the scope of the problem and, if warranted, safely apprehended him? North Carolina requires citizens to report suspected abuse by a parent, guardian, custodian or caretaker. If the story told so far is true, the City of Refuge violated that law.
If school officials thought they’d spare everyone involved some embarrassment, they were very wrong. And they’ve exposed Kesler’s accusers to trauma. The teens shared their stories and a man killed himself. That’s a burden to bear.
Was Kesler’s suicide an admission of guilt? Evidence points that way, but we’ll never know the full story. What we do know is that rumors of impropriety have swirled around the City of Refuge before, in 2001. No charges were filed. But doubts remained, and the Kesler story raises many more. For the sake of the children entrusted to its care, someone needs to hold the City of Refuge accountable