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Priest Charged in Molestations Is Arrested in Alaska

Crime: L.A. prosecutors file 23 counts, saying acts in G. Neville Rucker's case spanned 30 years. He is seized on cruise ship.

September 28, 2002|RICHARD WINTON and ANNA GORMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A priest wanted for allegedly molesting children was snatched by authorities from a cruise ship that had been diverted on the high seas to Alaska's Aleutian Islands on Friday at the request of Los Angeles police.

G. Neville Rucker, a retired 82-year-old Roman Catholic priest, offered no resistance when Alaska state troopers took him into custody, authorities said.

"We were not going to let him go to another country," said LAPD Capt. Sharyn Buck.

Rucker had been on a cruise ship, the Volendam, heading for eastern Russia. The ship made an unscheduled stop in the remote port of Dutch Harbor, Alaska, officials said.

Officials used the pretext of an injured crew member to explain the change in itinerary, which was arranged with the help of the U.S. Coast Guard and Alaska state troopers, officials said

"We did not want to alert anyone on the ship," said Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer Roger W. Wetherell. "But a crew member on the cruise ship had suffered an injury, so passengers were told that was the reason for the diversion."

The arrest comes two days after prosecutors asked Rucker's attorney to surrender his client. Investigators had mistakenly believed Rucker would give himself up and were surprised to learn he had left on a cruise. The LAPD never considered Rucker to be a fugitive.

Also Friday, prosecutors filed 23 charges of child molestation against Rucker. If convicted on all counts, Rucker could be sentenced to 26 years in prison.

The Volendam was on a 64-day Pacific circle cruise out of Vancouver, Canada, with its next scheduled port of call Petropavlosk in eastern Russia on Oct. 1. It left from Vancouver on Sept. 23.

"We received a request from U.S. law enforcement to disembark a passenger, and we cooperated," said Rose Abello, spokeswoman for Holland America Lines, which owns the vessel.

Rucker's attorney, Donald Steier, on Friday accused police of overreacting to what he says was a vacation.

Prosecutors allege that Rucker molested seven girls while he worked at several churches in Los Angeles County, including St. Alphonsus in East Los Angeles, St. Anthony in El Segundo and St. Agatha in Los Angeles.

All of the girls were under 14 when they were abused, prosecutors said. Rucker was charged with crimes spanning 30 years, beginning in the 1940s.

According to the criminal complaint, Rucker abused his first victim in 1947 and continued molesting girls until 1976. He is accused of molesting four girls once, one girl three times and another four times. The majority of the counts--12--relate to one girl, whom prosecutors say he molested from 1971 to 1973.

Earlier Friday, three women who allege that Rucker molested them in the 1970s at St. Agatha said they felt victimized again upon hearing that he had left the country on a cruise, and relieved when he was arrested.

"I can't believe they managed to stop the ship," said Wendy Kennedy, who is among those Rucker is charged with molesting.

Kennedy's sister, Jackie Dennis, 41, who claims Rucker molested her when she was a grade school student in the 1970s at St. Agatha's school, said: "I want justice for each of his victims. Church leaders allowed this man to continue to serve after he was caught molesting girls in El Segundo."

Archdiocese officials have known for three decades about 1967 child abuse accusations against Rucker. He was accused of molesting two 9-year-old girls at St. Anthony parish in El Segundo during the 1960s, according to a police report and court records. Rucker at the time denied any misconduct at the church, where he served as associate pastor from 1962 to 1967.

At the time, Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony's predecessor, then-Bishop Timothy Manning, persuaded the mother of one of the El Segundo girls not to press criminal charges.

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