LURKING IN THE SCHOOLS
Kevin Ricks' career as teacher, tutor shows pattern of abuse that goes back decades
Sunday, July 25, 2010
Kevin Ricks was a gregarious, well-traveled English teacher at Osbourn High School, a Walt Whitman devotee who was so popular that a photo of him in class was chosen to fill the opening page of the yearbook. A writer and photographer himself, Ricks would walk the halls of the Manassas school with a leather-bound journal of his musings tucked in his bag, next to his laptop computer.
What teachers, parents, students and even his wife didn't know was that his journals contained decades of dark secrets, a running handwritten commentary of Ricks's world of obsession, infatuation, pursuit, sexual abuse and international child exploitation.
They didn't know about his library of homemade pornographic videos and explicit photographs capturing his tequila-soaked sex acts with teenage boys he had handpicked. They didn't know about the makeshift shrine boxes containing mementos of the episodes, including sex toys, soiled tissues and hair trimmings.
Even some of the victims didn't know they were victims.
A four-month Washington Post investigation of Ricks's career as a teacher, tutor, foreign exchange host and camp counselor has revealed a pattern of abuse that dates to at least 1978 and has left a trail of victims spanning the globe. But despite the abuse, Ricks moved from one teaching job to the next over nearly 30 years, navigating the nation's public and private school systems undetected, evading traps designed to catch him.
In some cases, school officials and foreign exchange companies knew of or suspected Ricks's inappropriate behavior and simply let him go, leaving the next employer with no idea what was coming.
His case underscores the difficulties that educators and parents face when they only suspect abuse but can't prove it, and how reluctant even the most suspicious and well-meaning people can be in coming forward with allegations. It shows how someone can for decades wear a mask of trusted role model while using that powerful position to lure unsuspecting boys.
Interviews with six of his victims or their families in Asia, Europe and the United States -- along with several others who think they or their children were being groomed as victims -- tell a story of a teacher who believed he was falling passionately in love with his students and the foreigners he brought into the country. They said he spent months infiltrating their lives, their families and their youth groups. He plied them with expensive gifts, trips, event tickets, attention and ultimately loads of alcohol.
When the boys were in a drunken stupor or asleep, Ricks would molest them, using a camcorder and camera to capture the graphic, secret sex acts, according to victims and law enforcement officials.
Police and prosecutors in Virginia and Maryland said their investigations have turned up alarming evidence of predation along with a hoard of child pornography and matching journal entries describing the abuse. A Manassas police detective and FBI agents are scouring his computers and journals and have been looking across three continents for evidence.
So far, he is charged in Prince William County with the sexual battery of one teenager. But the federal investigation and Post inquiry have turned up much more.
Teachers and school administrators in several jurisdictions said in interviews that Ricks came with recommendations and an unblemished record. Some said privately, however, that they had concerns about his closeness with students and rumors of possible abuse but that they felt powerless to do anything about it.