Story Time

How the bizarre child-abuse investigation of a school counselor became a crusade against troublesome parents -- courtesy of the Colorado Education Association.

At the meetings organized by Perkins and other parents, there was talk of how Shepard had supposedly been to Russia and had a poster of Big Sur on his office wall, leading some to believe that he must have some kind of sinister connection with the New World Order, California's hedonistic Esalen Institute and other bugaboos of the Christian right. There was talk of possible touching, fondling and messing with kids' minds. There was talk of trips to Copper Mountain and a persistent suggestion that Shepard was hypnotizing kids so they wouldn't remember what was done to them.

Excerpts of these remarks, taken from partial transcripts of meetings that were tape-recorded, were later introduced in Shepard's lawsuit as evidence of the defamation he had suffered. They include these statements:

"Jack Shepard is denying that he's seen our kids. He's telling our kids not to tell your parents you've seen me."

"And us three right here, sitting with three of the girls that were abused."
"He's using hypnosis or meditation to have his way, to do whatever he wants with the kids...I don't want anyone touching my kid."

"He told kids not to tell the secret, not to trust their parents."
"He told the kids he was God."
Shepard has maintained that such statements were made repeatedly and then passed on to investigators. He has also pointed out that some of the parents brought their children to the meetings; if they didn't have anything bad to say about their counselor before, they had plenty of opportunity to pick up ideas from others. And he has accused Del Rae Perkins of quizzing other people's children and "coaching" them on what to say, planting false allegations against him.

Perkins, whose family has since left the state, couldn't be reached for comment. But other parents say they took pains to do what the investigators asked: Don't interrogate your kids but simply listen, without showing any emotional reaction, and leave the questioning to the experts. In most cases, that meant hauling their children to Social Services and private therapists for weeks or months without being able to question what was said in those sessions.

"They couldn't talk in any detail of anything that made sense," says John Hellner. "But if you said anything to them, you could be accused of being a radical. We were told by an attorney that we could be charged with interference with an investigation. What can you do? What rights do you have?"

"It's a very gray area, telling people not to talk to their children," adds Susan Hellner. "You're supposed to sit there, and your child says whatever she says, and you're supposed to go, 'Uh-huh, yes, dear.' The whole thing has been so frustrating. Not being able to be a parent is the most frustrating thing of all."

Ken Lawrence says he was as surprised as anyone at the accusations against Shepard, whom he'd encountered around town for years and had thought of as "a decent guy." But like several other parents, he insists his daughter reacted strangely the first time he brought up Jack Shepard's name--presumably before anyone could have "influenced" her response. Lawrence began to suspect something must have happened, even though his daughter never made any claims of abuse.

"Nobody wanted to believe anything was going on," Lawrence says. "But when a parent asks [a child if she] knows Jack Shepard and the kid sits there doing things she's never done before, won't look you in the eye--you know there's something there."

Ginger Lawrence says her daughter from a previous marriage, Ken's stepdaughter, was also reluctant to admit knowing Shepard. When the girl later changed her story--saying she'd met with Shepard frequently and had been physically and sexually abused by him, all of which Shepard denied--that prompted investigators to suspect that she must have been coached. But that wasn't the case, her mother insists.

"At first she completely denied knowing who he was, what he was in the school," she says. "That same night she came in and said, 'I do know him. I remember talking to him one time in third grade.' The next day she started saying she was in with him in kindergarten and first grade and second grade...It just went on and on."

Ginger concedes that the children's age and their shifting stories about what happened in Shepard's office worked against them. "My daughter would talk about going on a boat and picking up seashells," she says. "You know and I know they didn't do that. But to her, they did that. This was fantasy, guided imagery, whatever it might have been. It made the kids seem incredible." (Shepard has denied using guided imagery.)

Both the Lawrences and the Hellners reject the notion that Del Rae Perkins was some kind of ringleader in a plot to ruin Shepard with tainted testimony. "Del Rae was very cautious on anything she ever said to me," says Susan Hellner. "She was very guarded. She told me that she could not talk to me. A few statements were made, but even those statements did not necessarily point to Jack Shepard."

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