The Lookout

Boy Scouts secret file resurrects past abuse for victim

Jason Sickles, Yahoo
The Lookout

From the BSA's ineligble volunteer file on Curtis Knarich. Click image to view the full report.

[Updated at 4:20 p.m. ET]

PORTLAND, ORE. — Time and trauma have robbed John Buckland of many childhood memories, but he still vividly remembers the night police appeared at his family's home in the summer of 1984.

"They knocked while we were having dinner," recalls Buckland, who was 14 at the time.

The detectives at the front door were armed with lewd photos of boys they had confiscated from Curtis Knarich, Buckland's Boy Scouts troop leader.

"My picture was in those folders," he said. "He had taken pictures of me and tons of other victims."

The crimes occurred at Travis Air Force Base in California where the Buckland family was stationed. Knarich, then 24, was a sergeant and a volunteer assistant scoutmaster.

Months after police came to Buckland's door, Knarich pled guilty to sexually molesting him and 12 other boys. He was shipped off to Fort Leavenworth federal prison.

The Scouts quietly added Knarich to its secret list of ineligible volunteers, but apparently never contacted the Buckland family.

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Buckland supressed his abuse for nearly 30 years. (Buckland family photo)

"I was allowed to go through junior high, high school and all those years in my life without any kind of reaching out from them," said Buckland, who drifted off into drugs, crime and eventually his own prison sentence for armed robbery.

"The Boy Scout thing had been buried so deep and so low inside of me," Buckland, now 42, told Yahoo News. "It's the secrecy that kills people."

On Thursday, the Scouts' records on Knarich's expulsion will be a secret no more. Against the Scouts' wishes, the Oregon Supreme Court ordered 20 years of the so-called perversion files to be made public. Knarich is named in a 14-page file chronicling his crimes.

The Boy Scouts of America (BSA), one of the country's oldest and largest youth organizations, has kept the files since 1920 as an internal way of weeding out staff and volunteers accused of child sexual abuse.

The records being released were the centerpiece of a 2010 landmark ruling against the Scouts in which an abuse victim (unrelated to the Buckland case) was awarded nearly $20 million.

The release includes documents on more than 1,200 accused perpetrators between 1965 and 1985 nationwide. The names of alleged victims and people who reported the incidents have been redacted. The Portland law firm responsible for disclosing records put the approximate 14,500 pages online at www.kellyclarkattorney.com, but that site was experiencing slowness as of Thursday afternoon.

Ineligible volunteer files are still maintained today. The BSA says they remain confidential to encourage victims to report abuse. Attorneys for Scout victims disagree.

"There's no reasonable argument that the Scouts can't make this public and let the public see that there is nothing to hide and we are doing things better," attorney Kelly Clark said at Thursday press conference.

The Scouts' 1984 file on Knarich was prompted by a Scouts leader who saw news of his arrest in a local newspaper.

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Curtis Knarich spent nearly 20 years in prison. (Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement)

"One of my assistant Scoutmasters has been indicted regarding illicit sex and making advances at children, which includes sodomy and indecent acts with minors," the troop official wrote in a July 1984 letter to BSA national headquarters. "This individual has also taken photographs of minors in various sexual situations."

Yahoo News reached Knarich at a Florida motel where he now lives.

"There's not a day that goes by that I don't think about the lives that I've ruined," he said.

Knarich served 12 years in a military prison and another seven in Florida after being convicted of fondling a 14-year-old boy. He disputes the state charges but says he takes full responsibility for what happened to Buckland and others 30 years ago.

"I was molesting children and that was wrong," said Knarich, now 52. "But I will say this - at that time I saw it as being sexually involved with my peers. I was very immature."

Knarich grew up in scouting and says he earned the coveted Eagle award while growing up in Florida. Despite being placed on the ineligible volunteer list in 1984, the ousted molester said local scouting officials repeatedly called him to volunteer at summer camps after he was released from federal prison.

"Un-freaking believable," attorney Clark said when told of the  interview by Yahoo News.

BSA national spokesman Deron Smith said the ineligible volunteer files, "aren't perfect, and they were never meant to be. They were meant to be a barrier."

Knarich said he eventually informed the local leaders of his past.

"They had no idea," he said. "I went in and asked them to please stop contacting me."

He's now a registered offender in Florida and says he attends therapy regularly.

"I would kill myself before I reoffended," Knarich said while crying over the phone. "I will not do that to a child."

Yahoo News declined his request to not include his name in this story.

"I don't want to do anything to embarrass my family," he said. "I've put them through enough already."

Buckland, on the other hand, said it's an important part of his recovery to be identified by name as a victim.

"I want the Boy Scouts to know my name for once," said Buckland, who was known by his middle name, Mark, when he was younger. "I don't want to be an invisible case number anymore."

Buckland, who was pardoned in 2003 for crimes he committed, said therapy and making amends for his own mistakes in life have changed him. He's happily married, a new father, and proud of firefighting he did as a contractor in Iraq.

He explored a civil suit against the Scouts, but he's well beyond California's strict statute of limitations for filing. Meanwhile, a personal apology, he said, would be a good start.

"It's not about the money," Buckland said. "It's about principle. It's about integrity. It's about the very things they taught us when we were in Scouts."

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