Posted by Thetford Academy on Friday, March 23, 2012

The girls from Thetford Academy told similar stories: They’d said “no” multiple times, but he did it anyway.

Some said the boy grabbed them by the neck, choking them as he pinned them to a wall. Sometimes, it was against a tree.

Five girls, ages 15 or 16, said they were sexually assaulted by a male schoolmate on several occasions within the past year, according to a probable cause affidavit. Some of the assaults happened inside buildings at the independent secondary school in Thetford, a small town in Vermont. Others, authorities said, happened in a wooded area and in a dugout at the 198-year-old school’s baseball field.

The assaults, the girls said, included groping, oral sex and intercourse.

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Connor Tatro, 16, has been charged with seven counts of felony sexual assault. Although Tatro is a minor, he was charged as an adult because of the seriousness of the crimes, Assistant Orange County State Attorney Dickson Corbett IV said. Vermont law states that people under 18 are charged as juveniles, but there are exceptions for serious offenses, which include sexual assault.

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“Each of the allegations is that the sexual acts occurred without the consent of the girls,” Corbett told The Washington Post.

One girl told investigators that she and Tatro were in the school’s science building when he forced her to perform oral sex, the affidavit said. She said “no,” and he choked her, the girl said. She told investigators that she “was scared of what he might do,” so she “went along with it.”

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Every time she said “no,” the girl said, Tatro responded, “you know you like it.”

The Post typically does not identify victims of sexual violence.

A second girl said she was sexually assaulted multiple times, once in the science building, another time in the woods near the school, and again in the baseball field dugout. She told investigators that she and Tatro dated on and off for about a year and half, and she decided to break up with him because he kept pressuring her to do “sexual things.”

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In one instance, she said, Tatro “made” her go to the woods, where she was forced to perform oral sex and have intercourse with him. In another incident, Tatro dragged her into a small closet in the baseball field dugout, the affidavit said. She “told him no each time,” the girl said, “but he did anyway.”

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A third girl told investigators that she was also assaulted more than once, in the wooded area and in a school annex building.

Thetford Academy opened nearly 200 years ago, in 1819, and admitted both boys and girls from its founding, according to a school history page, which notes:

Early descriptions of the school describe its founding principles and extol the benefits of its rural location. “Thetford Academy is situated in the pleasant and quiet village of Thetford, Vt., two miles from the Connecticut and Passumpsic Railroad. The location is remarkably healthy, and free from business, excitement, and every temptation to lateness and dissipation. The society is characterized by intelligence and morality, and a deep interest is felt in the welfare of the students and the prosperity of the school.”

Among the school’s more notable alumni: a secretary of the Navy and several U.S. senators and other members of Congress.

In a July 11 letter to students and staff members, William Bugg, head of Thetford Academy, described the sexual assault allegations as “deeply disturbing and incredibly disheartening.”

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“Please know that the alleged behavior is not compatible with what we teach and value at Thetford Academy, and it runs counter to our culture of caring — a culture in which we take great pride and on which our students depend,” Bugg wrote in another letter last week.

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He added that the school is reviewing its policies and procedures, and will provide opportunities for students to participate in educational programs on having healthy and responsible relationships.

Bugg said school officials alerted authorities within 24 hours of learning of the allegations.

Tatro was arraigned last week and was released to his mother’s custody. He is not allowed to have contact with the five girls involved, or with other girls under 18, said Corbett, the prosecutor.

The teen’s attorney, Catherine Dux, did not return a call from The Post.

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The lawyer told the Valley News that “these are some very, very serious allegations. But that is all they are.”

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A message left for Tatro’s mother, Stacie LaLonde, also was not returned. But she told investigators that her son had been receiving text messages from one of the girls, apologizing because things were “blown out of proportion,” according to the affidavit.

That girl reportedly told Tatro in a text message that she didn’t want anything to happen to him.

All the girls said that they had previously exchanged sexually explicit messages and images with Tatro. They said he used those messages to elicit sexual favors, according to the affidavit.

At least one girl, who said she and Tatro also dated, told investigators that she was pressured into sending photos and videos. She said she consented to some sexual contact, like kissing, but she did not want to go further.

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Another girl, who said she was friends with Tatro, told investigators that he began talking to her in a sexually suggestive way. She went along with it, she said, because she did not want to lose her friend. She also talked about an incident in which she and Tatro had consensual sex during a party at a friend’s house, according to the affidavit.

The incidents happened sometime between spring 2016 and spring of this year, the affidavit said. But the Orange County Sheriff’s Department did not know of the allegations until early June.

One of the girls said she and the others had gotten together and decided to talk to school officials about what happened. Asked why she did not come forward sooner, she said she felt people would assume the sex was consensual. She added that she did not want to be labeled a rape victim.

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