HEAR NOT EVIL
Something was terribly wrong with her son, and Marci Johnson didn't need a mother's intuition to know it.
Although 10-year-old Michael is deaf, he had always been a lively, cheerful boy, fond of baseball and swimming. For the past few months, however, he had grown sullen and withdrawn, frequently collapsing into prolonged fits of sobbing.
At first, Marci thought Michael was distraught over the serious illness of a grandparent. But when the bouts of depression and mood swings intensified, she began to ask what was wrong.
"Nothing, Mom," became the lanky, sandy-haired child's standard reply. He would smile unconvincingly, Marci remembers, avoiding eye contact--and then quickly change the subject or bolt from the room.
Finally, on a warm spring night in May 1992--while Michael was helping his mother fold laundry--he announced that there was "a story I have to tell."
It was a story that is every parent's worst nightmare. A story of molestation.
Haltingly, Michael told his mother that there was an "older boy" on the bus he rode every day to and from the Phoenix Day School for the Deaf--the state-run institution for hearing-impaired students--who was "touching him."
Using a mix of spoken words and sign language, his nimble fingers spinning letters in the air that spelled out the unthinkable, Michael described how during the long bus rides--more than an hour in length--David" had repeatedly pulled his pants down and had fondled his penis.
"He feels it and tells me that he loves me," Michael told his mother.
Marci sat down for an earnest, heart-to-heart talk with her son. Over the following hours and days, an embarrassed Michael slowly revealed more details: He had been "touched" as many as 30 times. David had pulled the pants off two other PDSD kids, both young girls, and "played" with them, as well.
In addition, on at least one occasion, David had forced Michael to hold the older boy's penis and had ordered him to perform oral sex. Michael had managed to break free--but the fondling routine continued unabated.
Marci's anger and disgust mushroomed when she later discovered that Michael's attacker was not a "boy," after all, but an 18-year-old adult, enrolled in the PDSD high school.
She quickly assuaged her maternal grief and rage, however, with the thought that since her son's dark secret was now out in the light, at least "something would be done--and quick."
"I was sure that when your kid was molested, people would really get upset and do something," she says. "I mean, a molestation gets results from people, right? I figured there would be plenty of shoulders to cry on."
The results, however, weren't what she expected. The only shoulder Marci was to receive from school and law enforcement officialdom was of the cold variety.
During the next six months, Marci and her husband, Chuck, ran headlong into a maddening series of barriers in their quest to bring David to justice. They discovered that rather than investigate the molestation and take action to prevent similar events from occurring, publicity-shy school bureaucrats and police officers and prosecutors were intent on burying the case in a maze of delays and obfuscation.
It was a sex crime no one wanted to face.
Police documents obtained by New Times and interviews of those close to the investigation indicate that Jay Farman, the PDSD principal at the time--eager to quietly deal with the molestation "in-house"--refused to contact police, the state office of Child Protective Services or even the parents of other children Michael claimed had also been molested. In failing to notify the proper authorities, he apparently violated a state law requiring him to do so.
In fact, Farman failed to contact authorities even after David had confessed to school officials that he had molested Michael, and after the principal had reason to believe the young man was violent and "could not be controlled."
Documents also show that when the Phoenix police were notified by the Johnsons of the alleged molestations, the detective assigned to the case waited nearly three months to contact and interview David--despite the fact he knew that the young man had confessed on two separate occasions to the crime and despite corroborating testimony from other children who verified key elements of Michael's story.
Marci Johnson says the officer told her that there was "no hurry," because it is "difficult to put deaf people on trial," and there was thus little chance that David could be arrested and convicted.
The Maricopa County Attorney's Office evidently agreed. According to Marci, the office informed her that David's victims would have difficulty communicating what had happened to a jury--and that the time and expense of giving them the chance to do so would be prohibitive. The case was officially closed in October 1992.
But for the Johnsons and other parents of deaf kids, it remains an open wound. Along with other serious incidents at PDSD, the case has become a symbol of what some parents say is a dangerous school environment.
Critics say the unique composition of the student body at PDSD--sexually mature students, some as old as 22, mingle with children as young as 3--places younger students at a higher-than-normal risk of sexual abuse.
Although school officials insist security was tightened at the school and on its buses in the wake of the attacks on Michael Johnson, another molestation earlier this year--the second at the school in 18 months--lends credence to parental concerns.
In that case, a 17-year-old boy allegedly sodomized a 6-year-old boy. According to the younger boy's lawyer, the only reason that the 17-year-old wasn't arrested and prosecuted was because a semen sample taken from the youngster's rectum was lost by a hospital. The family is contemplating a lawsuit, alleging the school failed in its duty to protect the child.
Mary Jane Nichols, president of HEARS Inc. (Hearing Education and Rehabilitation Society), an advocacy organization for parents of Arizona's deaf children, says that the molestations and other incidents--including occasions where deaf children have been left locked in the school nurse's office and in buses after school hours--were enough to cause her to join an increasing number of parents who are pulling their children out of PDSD for safety reasons.
"At first you might think it is just a bunch of paranoid parents whining," says Nichols of complaints about PDSD. "But when you get enough parents in a room together telling similar stories, you begin to believe there is something really wrong at that school."
@body:Marci Johnson didn't waste any time after she discovered that her son had been repeatedly molested. The night Michael told her about events on the bus--May 27, 1992--she immediately phoned PDSD principal Jay Farman at home.
"I told him what was going on, and, I swear, he said, 'I'm in the middle of watching a basketball game, can this wait?'" Marci remembers. "I said, 'Hell, no, it can't wait.'" It was, she says, a discouragingly prophetic beginning. Farman agreed to meet the Johnsons the next morning at his PDSD office, where the parents demanded that David be immediately taken off Michael's bus. Farman agreed, and he also promised to interview David about the incident.
The Johnsons then gave Farman the names of two other children that Michael said had also been molested, little girls named Julie and Becky, and asked if perhaps the police should be consulted. But Farman demurred.
"I got the sense he preferred that the situation go away," Chuck Johnson recalls, "or, failing that, he wanted to handle it in-house.
"He had a bit of the 'I don't want to talk about this' syndrome."
Farman, 65, now retired from his post as principal, admits he didn't want to involve the police at this stage. "I felt like it was the [Johnsons'] decision to inform the police if they wanted to," he remembers. "They were aware of the situation, so it wasn't my place. It was a courtesy to them to allow them to make the decision."
That "courtesy," however, may have been against the law.
A section of the Arizona Criminal Code, on the books since 1989, obligates school officials to notify police or the state office of Child Protective Services as soon as they learn a molestation may have occurred.
Olga Shroyer, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Education, says the notification rule is "absolutely not discretionary."
"Our position is that the law requires any school official who learns of a possible molestation to call the proper officials immediately," Shroyer says. "And that means the same day they find out about it." Farman's argument that notification was unnecessary because the Johnsons were "aware of the situation" seems to directly undermine the intent of the law: The whole point of expanding responsibility for reporting abuse of children to school officials is to provide a backstop in instances where the parents are indeed "aware"--because they themselves are the abusers. As Shroyer points out, the educator's job is to sound the alarm, not make value judgments that give "discretion" to the parents.
In any event, it would seem as though Farman's duty to notify the police was even more clear-cut when it came to the other children identified by Michael as possible victims--children whose parents were blissfully unaware that their kids might have been molested.
Not only did Farman fail to notify authorities about those possible attacks, he admits that he did not bother to warn the parents themselves--even after David confessed to the principal that he had, in fact, molested Michael.
@body:Shortly after his meeting with the Johnsons, Farman and a school counselor met with David--who, according to police reports, "admitted that he had pulled Michael's pants down and . . . had touched his penis."
In addition, Farman had reason to know that David was potentially violent. "He causes problems at home," Farman said at the time. "His mother cannot control him."
While Farman was compiling this information, the Johnsons made a decision to call the police on their own. But during the almost two weeks between the time the family alerted authorities and the day a detective contacted Farman to discuss the molestation charges, the principal remained inexplicably silent about David's confession. When an officer did finally call Farman--on June 9--he did relate the confession story, but seemed reluctant to cooperate in the overall investigation.
The police report chronicling the conversation between Phoenix police detective John Martin and Farman shows that Martin asked the principal if he knew of any other possible victims besides Michael Johnson. According to the report, Farman responded that the molestation was "an isolated incident, and [said] he does not know of any other victims"--this despite the fact that he now admits to New Times that the Johnsons had warned him about the possibility that the two little girls, Julie and Becky, had also been fondled.
Farman shrugs when confronted with the gap between what he knew and what he told police, saying that his memory from that week 18 months ago is "understandably a bit cloudy." He denies trying to impede or contain the investigation.
At the time, however, he acted decisively to quell rumors that were spreading about the alleged molestations. Although it must have been apparent to Farman during his June 9 conversation with Martin that a police investigation was ongoing, Farman on June 15 sent a note to parents of PDSD students--a terse, two-paragraph memo--that effectively pronounced the case closed.
"Shortly before school closed for the summer break," Farman wrote, "we learned of an incident that occurred on the school bus that your child rides each day between home and school. That situation was handled and the older boy who was accused by the younger student was removed from that bus.
"We have no confirmed reports of other incidents occurring and have received no complaints from other children on the bus."
Becky's father says the memo was his first inkling that something was wrong at PDSD. But he had no idea that his own daughter was involved.
"All we got was this vague memo about an 'incident,'" the father says. Neither Farman nor anyone from the school ever notified him of the ongoing investigation against David, or that his 7-year-old was a possible victim. He didn't learn that until Marci Johnson took it upon herself to contact him.
"The school had a moral and ethical responsibility to let these parents know what had happened and get these kids counseling," Marci says. "When they wouldn't call them, I did."
Farman's unwillingness to alert the police or parents and his evasiveness with investigators could be interpreted as standard-issue fanny-covering, prompted by an all-consuming desire to protect his institution from receiving a black eye.
Nichols, the HEARS leader, insists that such an approach is typical of the school's administration. "Whenever anything comes up, from a hangnail to a molestation, their approach is to deny it first and investigate it later, if at all," she says.
Chuck Johnson, a former member of the PDSD advisory board--a group of administrators, teachers and parents who counsel the school on policy issues--says there may have been an urgent financial component to Farman's inertia, as well.
During the summer of 1992, the school was fighting for its budgetary life against Project SLIM, Governor Fife Symington's cost-cutting juggernaut. "There was really a lot of pressure on the school," Chuck says. "To succeed in the funding game, it may have been thought that the molestation should be kept as quiet as possible in order to protect the school's image."
That image had already taken its share of hits. An independent audit of PDSD, commissioned by the state legislature in 1991, blasted the school for top-heavy bureaucracy, sloppy accounting and free-spending ways--including an incident where then-superintendent Barry Griffing allegedly misused more than $54,000 in travel funds. Griffing was forced to resign. (The superintendent's post was vacant when Michael Johnson's molestation allegations surfaced, and it remained vacant until September 1992.)
In the wake of the audit, "a molestation report on the nightly news was the last thing the school wanted," Chuck says.
"I just felt," Farman reiterates, "that it wasn't my place to make the call [to police]."
Whatever the reason behind Farman's behavior, the Johnsons soon despaired of getting any cooperation from PDSD.
"I felt let down by the school," Marci says, "but I felt sure that the police would get something done."
As it turned out, the Johnsons would be disappointed once again.
@body:Two days after Michael told his mother about the incidents with David, Marci phoned the Phoenix Police Department, which immediately dispatched an officer to the family's home. It was May 29.
The officer took down some basic information and promised detectives would soon be on the case. But it was 11 days later, June 9, that Detective John Martin telephoned PDSD to talk with Farman--the conversation during which the principal told the detective about David's confession.
After obtaining that startling bit of information, Marci Johnson was confident Martin would move quickly to interview her son, the girls whom he said had been attacked, and David. Instead, the investigation seemed to grind to a halt almost before it began.
Martin waited more than a month, until July 16, to interview Michael, who clearly and calmly recited his story. The same day, Martin talked to Becky, who told the officer that on at least four occasions, someone on the bus had removed her pants and touched her on the vagina and breasts. The 7-year-old girl was embarrassed and squeamish, but when the detective asked her who had touched her, she quickly replied, "David." The other girl, 10-year-old Julie, was unwilling to talk about the molestations, but did tell Martin that David had hit her during a bus ride.
During the same period, Martin interviewed David's private therapist, who had been seeing the young man to counsel him about the molestation accusations. After obtaining a waiver of confidentiality from David's family, the therapist told the detective that David had confessed to "touching" Michael and Becky, and referred to his patient as "socially inept."
Although armed with an additional reported confession by David and damning testimony from the children, Martin waited more than another month, until August 19, to contact David's mother. Martin did not actually talk to the suspect himself until August 24, almost three months after the Johnsons had originally telephoned police.
"During this period," Marci says, "I was on the phone to the police constantly, trying to find out what was happening and why they wouldn't go out and talk to David. It was dragging on and on, and that just didn't seem to make sense."
Detective Martin did not return calls from New Times, and police spokesman Kevin Robinson declined to respond to repeated inquiries about whether such extended delays are standard in molestation cases.
When Martin finally got around to interrogating David, the young man did little to dispel the suspicions swirling around him. The police report chronicling the interview shows that he began by recanting the confessions he had made to the private therapist, school counselor and Farman--and would only admit to pulling Michael's pants down "a few times," an activity he described as "just playing around."
David then accused Michael and Becky of lying, and insisted that he never touched either on the genitals. Later, however, he admitted to touching both Becky and Julie on the "very top of the leg," several inches to the side of the genitals. David rationalized this behavior by describing the daily atmosphere on the bus as a prepubescent sexual frenzy, with Michael and the two girls "playing and touching each other all over their bodies." He was intrigued, David told the detective, and said he "just wanted to join them."
@body:Although aggravated by the snail's pace of the investigation, the Johnsons remained hopeful. They felt that Martin, albeit with painstaking sloth, had built a strong case against David--and that soon, the justice system would give him what he deserved.
The Johnsons wanted David to receive intensive, court-imposed therapy, not a stiff jail sentence.
"We weren't vindictive about this at all," Marci says. "We just wanted him to be mandated to stay in therapy and get help. He was young enough to be straightened out.
"What we didn't want was for him to get off scot-free and then go his own way, without counseling. If that happened, we felt like he would do to other kids what he did to Michael. That was our worst nightmare."
Increasingly, it appeared that the nightmare would come to pass. After Martin inverviewed David, the case sat idle for another six weeks. Finally, Martin gave Marci Johnson a discouraging status report.
"Martin told me that it wasn't likely that the case could ever be prosecuted," Marci recalls. "He said that the cost of hiring interpreters [to translate] the kids' sign language would be expensive, and the jury would find their testimony hard to understand.
"Deaf kids make lousy witnesses' seemed to be the gist of his position."
The Johnsons say Martin tried to convince them to let the case lapse rather than forward it to county prosecutors, who would expend precious man-hours investigating, then almost certainly refuse to file charges. But the Johnsons insisted, and Martin finally sent his investigative report to assistant county attorney Vince Imbordino.
A week later, the Johnsons received a form letter from Imbordino, saying that since there was "no reasonable likelihood of conviction," the case would be dropped.
After six months of waiting, the Johnsons were unwilling to leave it at that. They sought a more detailed explanation from Imbordino, who told the Johnsons that there were "inconsistencies" in the case. He also echoed Martin's concern about the primary witnesses, Michael and Becky, being able to effectively communicate.
Imbordino, a longtime sex-crimes prosecutor, doesn't deny expense and communication problems were "minor barriers" to prosecution, but he insists that he never told Marci Johnson that those barriers couldn't be overcome.
"Much more importantly, there were inconsistencies in the testimony of the witnesses that I felt would be difficult to get past," he says.
To be sure, there were problems with the case. It is difficult to base any prosecution on the sometimes mercurial testimony of young children. When they are deaf, their testimony becomes even more problematic.
In addition, during Martin's interview with Becky, the 7-year-old was unable to pin down specific days when she was molested.
However, if the little girl had been hazy on dates and times, she had adamantly identified her attacker. Didn't her testimony, along with David's repeated confessions and Michael's consistent, rational account of events, count for anything?
"Look," Imbordino tells New Times. "I want to make one thing clear. Just because we classify a case as having 'no reasonable likelihood' of a conviction doesn't mean there isn't someone out there guilty of a crime.
"It just means that in my professional judgment, we couldn't make it stick."
Officially, the case was closed. And within two weeks after the county decided it didn't have enough evidence to arrest and prosecute David, the Johnsons' "worst nightmare" became a reality. David stopped seeing his private therapist, and reentered PDSD as a student.
@body:The compact, 15-acre campus of the Phoenix Day School for the Deaf is located in a pleasant, tree-shaded, north central Phoenix neighborhood. The grim, institutional blues and grays of a state institution mask an interior that is filled with festive rooms and corridors.
It is a special place, many deaf students and teachers say, because it offers nonhearing children a unique chance to be among equals.
But along with the special all-deaf environment come special problems. Because of limited funding, the state cannot afford separate deaf elementary, junior and high schools--all are located within proximity to one another on the PDSD campus. In addition, hearing loss often prolongs the educational process, requiring early admission into preschool and an extended stay in the upper grades--sometimes until students are in their early 20s--before a diploma is earned.
As a result, PDSD has a unique mix of students. Teenagers, legal adults and preschool children mix and mingle on the same small campus. The combination, the school's critics say, can be volatile.
A stroll around the school highlights the concern. The open, airy campus is not clearly defined; there are few fences marking off areas of concern like the preschool. All the students share locker rooms, a theatre building, lunch areas and many common hallways, courtyards and even some bathrooms. The campus seems to have been designed by those oblivious to an ugly reality of life--where there are adults and kids, there is the potential for abuse.
Especially when many of the older students are just learning to express themselves sexually, and may have emotional problems brought on by their deafness that can send teenage angst and urges careening into overdrive.
David was evidently a case in point. Comments counselors made to police paint a portrait of a troubled, confused boy-man--emotionally immature, possibly conflicted sexually and, in the words of his professional therapist, "socially inept."
Deaf since birth, David was reared in a poor family. Soon before the incident with Michael, his mother took him to counselors after he had threatened to kill himself--because a girl he was infatuated with broke off their friendship. He was often hard to control at home, and had on at least one occasion threatened his mother with violence.
The fact that this young man was allowed daily contact--on the PDSD bus and elsewhere--with dozens of young children like Michael illustrates the kind of problem Ralph Bartley was hired to solve.
@body:It is not an exaggeration to say that among many PDSD teachers and parents, Superintendent Ralph Bartley is a beloved figure. A gentle, soft- spoken administrator, he presides over the small group of institutions comprising the Arizona State Schools for the Deaf and Blind with genuine compassion for the students. Even the Johnsons say he has earned generally high marks for efforts to improve the schools.
When Bartley assumed control of PDSD in September 1992, he immediately cleaned house. As he arrived, Farman departed, taking advantage of an early-retirement plan. Michael's bus driver also left the school. Although Bartley won't admit to wrongdoing on the part of former employees, he tacitly acknowledges that mistakes were made.
"When I came into the job," Bartley says, "I made it very clear, so that everyone would know, that when it comes to cases of sexual abuse, I don't want people worrying about the image of the school.
"We have a legal, moral and ethical responsibility to report cases to the police. That's the way we operate."
Bartley also revived the use of "SAY NO--GO TELL," a self-explanatory antimolestation mantra drilled into children at PDSD. Teachers and bus drivers alike were told to be more vigilant, with a special emphasis on monitoring during long bus trips to and from school.
While inadequate funding, he says, won't allow the kind of intensive supervision the school would prefer "in a perfect world," Bartley believes his "reforms" have minimized contact between older and younger students.
"It's true that when the bell rings, and students move from class to class, we can't always be sure which kids are coming into contact with each other," he says. "But parents can rest easy that the campus is a very safe place to be."
Bartley's earnest assurances aside, there is ample evidence that the campus simply isn't safe enough.
When Michael returned to PDSD in the fall of 1992, David was also back in class. The school, the Johnsons charge, did little or nothing to keep the two apart--and Michael was thrust into several frightening situations that sent him home shaking and crying with fear.
There were multiple encounters in common areas like locker rooms and bathrooms where David and Michael were left alone. On one occasion, Marci says, David glared menacingly at the younger boy during lunch--flashing the message in sign language to Michael that "you lied to the cops."
"After all that had happened," Chuck Johnson says, "it seems reasonable that the least they could have done was kept them apart. But instead, David was allowed to frighten and intimidate Michael."
Bartley's insistence that the school adequately supervises contact between older and younger students also rings hollow in light of another molestation, this time of a 6-year-old boy, on the PDSD campus earlier this year--well after the superintendent's reforms had been instituted.
@body:Bobby came home from his PDSD preschool class last January 15 and went straight to the bathroom. When the boy emerged some time later, he complained that his "butt hurt." Through sign language, the 6-year-old explained that while he was using a bathroom at PDSD, a "big boy" had put his "penis inside." The mother scooped the child up and raced to the Phoenix Indian Medical Center for an immediate examination.
According to his medical report and in a later letter written to confirm his findings, the pediatrician on duty at the hospital, Dr. Roy Teramoto, discovered an "abrasion" and sperm near the boy's rectum. He quizzed Bobby on how he had been injured, and the boy pointed to his penis and rectum and repeated that he had been "hurt" by a "big boy." The doctor called the police, who filed a report and quickly tracked down the "big boy," a 17-year-old PDSD high schooler whom Bobby identified as his attacker.
Rumor of the assault electrified the PDSD community. More than 100 parents showed up at a hastily organized meeting on campus to demand information and action from school officials. But according to Mary Jane Nichols, little was forthcoming.
"We were met with a stone wall," Nichols remembers. "They had nothing to say but, 'Everything is fine, nothing has been proven yet.' But it was obvious that everything wasn't fine."
The events of the following days are a bit murky, and are not specifically documented by police or medical reports. What is clear is that the investigation into Bobby's molestation was unceremoniously dropped by police within weeks, with little further inquiry. According to Sevrin Huselid, a lawyer hired by Bobby's parents, the case was short-circuited when the sperm sample recovered from the boy was misplaced by lab workers.
"If it hadn't been for the loss of that key piece of evidence," Huselid says, "the person who did this to Bobby could have been positively identified. As it was, the police had to drop the case."
Neither police nor Indian Medical Center officials responded to New Times' inquiries about Bobby's molestation. Although Bartley refused to discuss specifics of the case, he did say the fact the case was dropped "completely vindicates" the boy Bobby accused of molestation, and should not be weighed as evidence against the school.
Huselid insists, however, that the medical record compiled by Dr. Teramoto confirms that Bobby was molested by someone, and most likely someone at the school.
"The bottom line is that somebody molested the kid during the day, while he was at PDSD," he says. "Just because we don't or can't know now for sure who did it doesn't make that any less of a fact."
Huselid condemns the school for failing to properly segregate younger kids, and says he's "not sure PDSD did anything" to try to get to the bottom of who molested Bobby. The boy's parents, Huselid says, are considering filing a lawsuit to drive the point home.
Nichols says that she, along with many other concerned parents, doesn't have to be convinced. As president of HEARS, Nichols serves as a clearinghouse for horror stories that have sprung out of PDSD, and she says the molestation cases are only the proverbial tip of the iceberg--the worst-case outcomes of an institutional laissez faire attitude that permeates the school.
Interviews with selected PDSD parents reveal a startling sample of stories of neglect. One mother reports that her child, who made a trip to the school nurse's office because of a sudden illness, was forgotten and left alone after the school closed for the day, locked in the dark infirmary. The child was rescued after a lengthy nighttime search of the school grounds by her parents. Another preschool-age child was left sleeping on the bus one night, discovered only after the parents called school officials wondering why their daughter hadn't been dropped off at home.
Nichols, in fact, has dealt with so many angry parents--who turn to HEARS as an outlet for their frustrations--that she decided earlier this year to pull her own child out of PDSD.
"I wasn't going to wait for my child to get hurt or molested," she says.
Another parent, who is moving her family out of their home of 18 years to live in a school district that offers its own special programs for deaf kids, says she feels "like I don't have any other choice."
"I know there are a lot of dedicated teachers and professionals at the school," she says. "But there are too many who just don't give a damn, or who aren't smart enough to give a damn.
"I don't want my kid to be the next victim of incompetence."
@body:David is gone. Granted a high school diploma from PDSD in the spring of 1993, he no longer lives at his last known address. Attempts by New Times to locate him failed.
Michael, however, is easy to find. Now nearing his 12th birthday, he can be seen every day, trudging off to class, busily engaged in the long, slow process of growing up. He bears no visible scars from his assault. The emotional damage, however, is more difficult to measure.
After six months under the care of a therapist--a period Marci Johnson describes as "horrible" for the whole family--his parents say Michael seems to be his old self. The smiles are no longer forced, he no longer shakes or cries at the thought of going to school and, perhaps most important, he seems to carry no shame.
"I'm very proud of him," Marci says. "He is a stronger child than he used to be; he even warns other kids about the importance of saying no to strangers and telling adults if anyone touches them.
"I'm just sorry he had to get stronger this way.
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