AUSTINTOWN - An attorney for 11 former John F. Kennedy High School students renewed calls for an independent investigation Monday of the case of a friar accused of abusing students while a woman said she thinks her son's suicide was the result of abuse by that friar.
Barbara Aponte, mother of Luke Bradesku, said her son was a freshman at JFK in 1990, the last year that former Brother Steven Baker worked at the school as a baseball coach, trainer and teacher.
Aponte said at a news conference at the Fairfield Inn that when word was announced last month of the settlement, it explained some of the behaviors of her son, a former Marine and member of a state championship football team for the Eagles, who killed himself in 2003 at the age of 26.
Aponte, who was accompanied by her husband and three of her five daughters - said that she came forward because part of the cycle of abuse is the effect it has on other family members. She said she wants others to know they can get healing if they come forward.
''This is the legacy Brother Steve has left,'' Aponte said. ''His abuse goes beyond the victims.
''By not getting help, Brother Steven is still hurting families. We need to neutralize Brother Steve once and for all.''
Barbara Aponte of Poland, mother of suicide victim Luke Bradesku, a former John F. Kennedy High School student, reaches out to Michael Munno, left, a victim of abuse by Brother Stephen Baker, as victim advocate Dr. Robert Horton looks on at the end of a news conference Monday. A photo of Bradesku sits in the center of the table.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Baker, a Franciscan friar, killed himself last month after word of the settlement was announced. He also has been linked to abuse cases in Johnstown, Pa., where he worked at Bishop McCort High School after his tenure at JFK was completed.
Aponte said she does not blame the school or the Catholic Church for Baker's actions. She said she was a substitute teacher at the school while her son attended, to help afford his tuition and that while Baker was considered odd, no one thought he was abusing students.
It has been alleged by the 11 who settled with a Franciscan community, JFK and the Youngstown Diocese that Baker abused the students in his role as trainer, and would tell them they were injured and then order them to report to a training room for treatment, where they would be sexually abused.
The diocese says they first learned of the allegations in 2009 and when they were informed, they contacted Trumbull County Children Services Board. They have urged any victims to come forward and report abuse to civil authorities and the diocese and have said they have no known allegations of abuse.
When her son was a freshman he tried to commit suicide, yet after talks with counselors it was thought he was having trouble adjusting to a new school, Aponte said. She said after he graduated he wrote a short story where he said he dreaded going to the training room to be treated by Baker.
''He had daily interaction with this man,'' Aponte said.
She said she was abused herself as a child and said it is hard for victims to come forward because of their feelings of shame and humiliation, which are compounded when the abuser is an authority figure and a member of the clergy.
Upon hearing of Baker's case, she said she was wracked with guilt for missing the signs of abuse with her son.
Mitchell Garabedian, the Boston-based attorney who represented the 11 during the settlement and who specializes in cases involving abuse by clergy, said the diocese needs to open all their files on Baker and any other settlements they may have reached with abuse.
He also called for an independent investigation into Baker's tenure at JFK. He said since news of the settlement broke about 35 former students of Baker at Bishop McCort and JFK have come forward to say they were abused by Baker.
''Individuals continue to call me,'' Garabedian said.
Aponte said she called Garabedian first because she saw his name in the newspaper. She said she is not thinking of a lawsuit. She just wants answers on why her son committed suicide.
Nancy Yuhasz, a spokeswoman for the diocese, said the diocese has no current claims of abuse. She said officials there urge anyone who was abused to contact police and also the diocese.
''We have no other claims that have come to us,'' Yuhasz said.
Bishop George Murry said Monday he has sent letters to about 1,200 adults who attended John F. Kennedy High School in Warren from January to June 1978 and August 1985 to January 1992, while Baker taught and coached there.
Michael Munno, one of the 11 who has agreed to allow his name to be used, was at the news conference and remembers Bradesku from when he coached football at JFK. He said he feels guilty that he did not report Baker and Baker may have abused Bradesku, but Aponte said Munno did nothing wrong.
''There isn't one speck of me that assigns any blame to you,'' Aponte told Munno through tears.