FOXBOROUGH — Selectmen promised Tuesday to deliver answers about how a longtime former teacher, Boy Scout leader, and swim coach allegedly was able to prey on boys decades ago without being stopped or exposed.
The vow came as a 51-year-old man who identified himself as a victim of William E. Sheehan begged the board to stay firm in selectmen Chairman James DeVellis’s recent pledge to “turn over every stone and file cabinet” until someone is held responsible.
“Because 35 years ago this was buried, and people knew then,’’ said Dave Lutkus, a former Foxborough resident now living out of state.
Lutkus, accompanied by an attorney, James Griffin of Norwood, said he had hoped to remain anonymous because his family and friends did not know about this aspect of his past. But he said when he was unable to get his unsigned letter published in a newspaper, he decided to step forward. He trembled during the meeting’s public information segment as he stood at a microphone and described a life damaged by sexual abuse, compounded by frustration over what he said was a lack of justice.
“My summary of every conversation was, ‘Thanks for letting us know; you were number X; sorry you had to go through this,’ ” he said of conversations with police and prosecutors. “This is the first time that I’ve actually had hope that something would be done.”
Self-described victims began disclosing abuse allegations in August, ranging from incidents in 1963 when Sheehan began teaching in Foxborough elementary schools, to 1981, when he moved to Florida.
Town and Norfolk County authorities then charged Sheehan, 74, with 11 felony counts of indecent assault in four cases in which the state’s statute of limitations for prosecution had not expired. When Foxborough police and prosecutors arrived in Florida to arrest Sheehan, however, they found him unresponsive in an assisted-living facility in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
Twenty-three people have said they were abused by Sheehan in this area, five of whom are represented by Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who is also exploring a sixth claim. An additional case in Florida, where Sheehan was also a Boy Scout leader, cost him his Scout certification in 1989 and his state teaching license in 1990.
Spokesman Robert Carpenter of the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Department in Punta Gorda, Fla., said records show no charges have ever been filed against Sheehan in Florida.
Sheehan’s son, Steven, of Fort Myers, Fla., did not return a call for comment. Previously, Steven Sheehan said he did not know anything about the allegations and also refused to say whether his father has a lawyer.
A survivors’ group, led by the Rev. Bill Dudley of Union Church in Foxborough, called earlier this month for an internal investigation by Foxborough, asserting that the town, as a corporation, is liable for employees who oversaw the schools and recreation areas where Sheehan once worked. Dudley, who says he also had a one-time run-in with Sheehan, praised Lutkus’s courage and urged others to reach out.
Garabedian said it is “difficult for my clients to believe” that supervisors at places Sheehan worked did not know anything was amiss.
“A complete and full investigation by a truly independent body must be conducted to find out why numerous innocent children were sexually abused over the course of years without supervisors noticing that children were not safe,” he said.
Before Lutkus spoke, selectmen, Foxborough town counsel Richard Gelerman, and Town Manager Kevin Paicos met in executive session with Police Chief Ed O’Leary for an update on the criminal investigation. Neither O’Leary nor DeVellis would comment on that discussion.
But DeVellis said: “The sense of the board is that nobody here is circling the wagons and trying to protect anybody or anything from the past. We are being proactive, as is the police chief, as is our local counsel, as is the town manager.”
DeVellis said it does not matter that no one on the current board was in power when Sheehan was in town.
“Certainly I think it is our responsibility now to reach back and try and figure out what . . . happened so it doesn’t happen again,” he said. “We are on top of this as much as we can, and we are pushing this as much as we can.”
Selectman Mark Sullivan, who has also pushed for transparency, applauded Lutkus for coming forward.
Lutkus did not offer details but said he bristles at comments by some people that “everyone” knew about Sheehan.
“The fact is we all didn’t know,’’ he said. “We all were not as fortunate.”
As a boy, Lutkus said he remembered envying “big kids” who had one-on-one time with Sheehan at school, Scout meetings, or at Cocasset River Park’s swim program.
“I desperately wanted to be a big kid so I could be one of them,” he said.
Now, he said, he still suffers the guilty memories of not knowing how to tell an adult what Sheehan did, feeling he did something wrong, and wondering if Sheehan attacked more children because he did not speak up.
”I can be told it’s not my fault, and that I was young, but it doesn’t change the fact that it happened and it is in my past,” he said.