Lacrosse Players' Case a Trial for Parents
Saturday, June 10, 2006
As the mother of a Duke University lacrosse player, Tracy Tkac endured her worst moment while watching the news at home in Gaithersburg. There on national television was her son Chris's face on an outlaw-style wanted poster.
A woman hired to strip at a team party had told police she had been raped by three lacrosse players, and the police in Durham, N.C., accused the team of stonewalling the investigation. "Please come forward," said the poster, which featured nearly every one of the 47 students on the team and was shown hanging on a campus wall.
"The people that I entrusted my son's education to, allowing those posters to go up on the walls of their private institution," Tkac said.
In Chevy Chase, Sally Fogarty and her husband, parents of Gibbs Fogarty, hunkered down, avoiding social settings where the Duke case was the topic of discussion. "I could not risk hearing my friends express doubt over my son, because I was afraid the friendships would be ruined," Fogarty said.
John Walsh watched what he called a "rolling tide" wash over his son Johnny's team in a presumption of guilt. "In a fell swoop -- a lightning bolt -- everything is taken from them," said Walsh, a health administrator who lives in Bethesda.
Feeling abandoned, angry and distraught over their sons' futures, the parents bonded most through the shared conviction that everyone on the team is innocent.
Nine players are from the Washington area, and five are graduates of the Landon School in Bethesda. Their parents, who had spent years together on bleacher seats and carpool duty, were suddenly each other's counselors -- as well as detectives and legal experts, Googling criminal procedure and DNA research. They were careful with e-mails, fearful they could be intercepted and somehow used against their sons. Their nights were spent glued to cable to see what had happened in Durham that day.
Over the months, tensions erupted over legal strategies and fears of which son might be handcuffed next. The less-affluent parents have worried about how to pay legal bills. The wealthy ones swore they would spend every last penny clearing the names of the indicted.
The hardest part has been remaining silent as their sons were cast as thuggish, racist, elite jocks.
"I know these boys," Walsh said.
Whether the parents' view of their sons is the full picture will come out in court. District Attorney Michael B. Nifong has stopped making statements and would not comment for this report. He is proceeding with his cases against three Duke players accused of first-degree rape and kidnapping.
Four local families -- all of players not charged -- agreed to interviews, providing a window into an ordeal that for many began with a simple phone call from a son saying that there had been a party.