Foxborough police say the case against William E. Sheehan remains open, but on hold, until it’s clear whether criminal charges can be brought against the former teacher, swim coach, and Boy Scout leader accused of sexually abusing dozens of young boys over his two decades in town.
Sheehan, 74, now of Fort Myers, Fla., is in the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease and may be unable to defend himself, authorities say.
Since September, when eight men initially came forward to disclose decades-old stories of abuse — four of which were determined to be within the statute of limitations for prosecution — the case has grown to include 28 self-identified survivors, said Foxborough police Detective Timothy O’Leary.
O’Leary said there are probably more victims but some are unwilling to disclose their stories, knowing Sheehan may not be prosecuted. The detective said he is waiting for a ruling from a medical expert retained by the Norfolk district attorney’s office to learn whether Sheehan is medically able to face trial.
David Traub, a spokesman for Norfolk District Attorney Michael Morrissey, said the investigation is ongoing.
Members of a survivors group headed by Union Church pastor Bill Dudley, who also alleged an instance of abuse by Sheehan, had asked the town more than a month ago to conduct its own investigation of its past management practices.
Last week, Town Manager Kevin Paicos said that selectmen have concluded a review of the facts of the case “as they are currently available” and that the board fully supports the efforts of local, state, and federal officials to bring charges against Sheehan “as appropriate.” Paicos said, however, that the extent of the selectmen’s investigation was basically a police briefing on the status of the case.
That came as a disappointment to Dudley, who said he hopes to arrange a meeting between survivors and selectmen “to speak to them about a deeper, comprehensive investigation that has been alluded to.’’
Dudley said survivors want a management review of town and school supervisors responsible for overseeing Sheehan and for keeping children safe, who were at work in the 1960s and 1970s, which he said goes beyond the police investigation.
“Inside every victim is a kid crying out, ‘Why didn’t you protect me?’ ” Dudley said.
He said survivors want to know how Sheehan was allegedly able to abuse children, on town and school property, without anyone knowing or stopping him.
Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian represents six self-identified victims who he says were abused from approximately 1966 to 1980 when they were approximately 8 to 14 years old. At that time, Sheehan was a teacher at the Ahern Middle School, a Boy Scout leader of Troop 70, now defunct, and director or waterfront supervisor at Cocasset River Park, he said.
Garabedian said several of the men, now 46 to 59, want an independent investigator to be appointed to look into the past in Foxborough and determine “who knew what and when while working for the town.”
“My clients question why Foxborough town officials or supervisors did not notice a serial pedophile sexually molesting innocent children over the course of years,” Garabedian said. “My clients also question if the town officials or supervisors did actually notice such pedophilia, why appropriate steps were not taken to protect children.”
Paicos said a number of people have stated that “everyone” knew that Sheehan was a pedophile and that something should have been done about him long ago.
“I’m really sorry, but that is not the case,” Paicos said. “You can say school officials knew, and town officials knew, but there is a big difference between suspecting and being able to make a prosecution.”
Paicos and others have said that none of the town officials in office today were in power when the alleged abuse occurred.
He said selectmen have directed the town to plan and conduct sexual abuse awareness training for all employees, focusing on the identification and prevention of sexual abuse, as well as to prepare a comprehensive Sexual Abuse Prevention and Reporting Policy that will empower employees to appropriately report suspected cases of abuse. Department heads and employees, especially those in social services, have been ordered to work cooperatively with police and prosecutors to provide every support available to victims, he said.
“The board wishes the community to know that it intends to undertake any action possible to assist victims and their families to deal with this tragedy and, more, to make it impossible for a crime of this nature to ever occur in Foxborough again,” Paicos said.
Michele Morgan Bolton can be reached at email@example.com.