A man suspected of assaulting boys at residential high schools in New York and New Jersey has been arrested and charged, bringing relief to area boarding school officials but also leaving them wondering what, if any, measures they could take to ensure that such attacks do not happen again.
Police in Nassau County, N.Y., arrested Michael Lee Allen Jr., 24, late last month for allegedly breaking into a dormitory and sexually abusing a 12-year-old boy attending a baseball camp at a Long Island college in July.
Once in custody, police said Mr. Allen—who was homeless at the time of arrest and has worked as an itinerant soccer coach—confessed to three similar offenses at three area boarding schools. He is also a suspect in an incident at a fourth school.
On more than one occasion, police said, the suspect got directions to a school from the World Wide Web, broke into a dormitory in the early- morning hours, and put a knife to a boy’s throat. He allegedly sodomized at least two boarding school students, but in other incidents, the boys managed to escape.
The alleged offenses occurred over three years.
“It was a classic case of a serial predator,” Detective Sgt. Albert Ciaccio of the Nassau County police said. “It’s frightening.”
Window Pried Open
The most recent attack occurred Feb. 11 at the Peddie School in Hightstown, N.J., a quiet community 10 miles east of Trenton. The coed school serves 500 students in grades 8-12. According to police and school officials, the suspect pried open a ground-floor window to a common area of a dormitory just before 5 a.m. and molested a 16-year-old boy at knife point in his room.
Police quickly associated the incident with an almost identical one that had taken place two days before at the Millbrook School, a 230-student coed school about 90 miles north of New York City. Investigators also turned up reports of earlier, similar incidents at the Stony Brook School and the LaSalle Military Academy, both boarding schools in Suffolk County, N.Y.
LaSalle, which Mr. Allen once attended, reported an incident in which a student at soccer camp at the school was abducted, but fled before an assault could take place. School and police officials gave no details of the Stony Brook incident, but said it was being investigated as a burglary By late last week, Mr. Allen had been charged in connection with all but the Suffolk County crimes.
Once he had been identified as a suspect, he was duped into turning himself in by police who called his pager number asking that he come in to pick up material confiscated from him during a previous arrest on theft charges. He may be linked to assaults and robberies at even more schools, police officials added.
Sgt. Rick Warshany of the Hightstown police said that a search of Mr. Allen’s belongings turned up maps to schools other than those at which he has confessed to assaulting students.
Police are asking that school administrators knowing of other incidents with a similar modus operandi report them to the sex- crimes unit of the Nassau County Police Department.
‘A Delicate Balance’
Investigators said the case sends a message that even boarding schools with pastoral campuses far from urban crime centers need to be more vigilant about safety.
“I think we should all learn from this, and they should update their security procedures and prevent these things from happening again,” Sgt. Ciaccio of the Nassau police said. “You have to realize there are a lot of Michael Allens out there.”
The incident at Stony Brook, which occurred in late 1998, prompted the school to improve its outdoor lighting and increase the presence of security guards on campus, school officials said.
But several school leaders emphasized they didn’t want to completely sacrifice their campuses’ openness in the name of safety.
Peddie Headmaster Thomas DeGray said last week that he didn’t know what additional steps his school could reasonably take to protect students from crime. At Peddie, the window the suspect came through was bolted, the dormitory doors had alarms, and each student’s room can be locked—though the victim’s wasn’t, Mr. DeGray said.
“Somewhere, there’s a delicate balance between wanting to create a safe environment and an environment that’s trusting and feels secure,” he said. “You could have bars on the windows, and then nobody’s ever going to get in, but I’m not sure that that wouldn’t make kids feel more nervous.”
Still, he said, it’s important for both faculty members and students to be more alert for possible intruders. At one school, students reportedly saw the suspect earlier on the night of one of the attacks, but dismissed the encounter after the suspect told them he was a security guard doing “bed checks.”
“In some ways,” Mr. DeGray said, “the kids may be feeling too secure.”
A version of this article appeared in the March 08, 2000 edition of Education Week as Suspect Charged in N.Y., N.J. Boarding School Assaults