Sage Christensen, The Loved One
In 2002, Amherst principal Stephen Myers is accused of making sexual comments to a student, and loses custody of his adopted son. Nine years later, a man named JP Vernazzaro is killed on a Beverly playground. Are the events connected by an awful secret?
After losing a three-year-long custody battle for Sage in 2005, Steve Myers left Amherst and slipped into a life of quiet obscurity. Then, in 2009, he was contacted by a woman named Connie Durant, who’d worked for him at the Traveling School from 1977 to 1992. Though she hadn’t talked to him in more than a decade, Durant looked Myers up on Facebook and the two began corresponding.
Around the same time, however, Durant found the articles about Myers and the Santa Cruz police report. When she questioned him about the allegations, Myers admitted to some improper behavior, telling her in an e-mail that he had always had low self-esteem: “Never having had a father, never having received affection, I sought it from the kids, to the idiotic point of sharing a bed (Michael Jackson lunacy).”
Myers confided that he had become suicidal after losing custody of Sage and had moved to South Africa for three years. He taught for two of those years, but was let go after someone at the school found the news stories about him on the Internet. He returned to Denver and got a job as a teacher, but was placed on paid leave when school officials found the same articles. From there he moved to England, where he taught at a prep school. And just recently, he told Durant, he’d joined the teaching staff at Mid-Peninsula High School in Menlo Park, California.
As their e-mail correspondence continued, Myers admitted to Durant that he had been sexual with two former students and had sought professional help. He did, however, dispute Dan Thiel’s account of what happened during their camping trip in 1980. Nevertheless, to Durant, Myers seemed to be rationalizing his actions. “From society’s point of view, it was wrong and illegal,” he wrote. But, “Is illegal behavior automatically wrong?” He continued: “For a time I also thought about the Persians and Greeks who believed sex with boys was not only acceptable, but a necessary part of their development into manhood.”
Disturbed, Durant located former Traveling School students and staff members. One of them was Jon Warner — the 13-year-old who, with his mother’s permission, had traveled with Myers to the Albuquerque teacher conference in 1978. Warner filed a report with police in Mountain View, California, this year, claiming Myers had abused him during that trip. When I call him for this story, Warner tells me that he and Myers stayed in a motel room with only a single bed, and that Myers one evening started massaging Warner’s shoulders. “Then he told me he was going to give me a different kind of massage,” Warner recalls.
Myers told him to turn over on his back, Warner says, and began masturbating him. After several minutes, Warner says, Myers got under the covers and started playing with himself. Warner tells me that he sat on the edge of the bed, watching as Myers finished, walked across the room, and grabbed a motel towel to wipe himself down.
Upon arriving home in California several days later, Warner decided not to tell his mother. “I was so embarrassed and ashamed,” he says. “Throughout my whole life, whenever I feel personal control is taken from me I identify that same feeling with being stuck with Steve in Albuquerque. I flash immediately, my eyes will cross, and I’ll take flight on somebody.”
Connie Durant got in touch with others who claim Myers abused them, including Dan Thiel, and eventually formed a support network for them. She says she knows of nine men who claim Myers abused them as children. The group thinks Myers has been able to continually land teaching jobs because he’s never been charged with or convicted of a crime. That, they believe, has allowed him to pass background checks.