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I'm Sorry

A long-delayed apology from one of the accusers in the notorious McMartin Pre-School molestation case

October 30, 2005|Kyle Zirpolo, as told to Debbie Nathan | Kyle Zirpolo is a 30-year-old former McMartin Pre-School student who now manages a supermarket on California's central coast. Debbie Nathan is a writer in New York and coauthor, with appellate attorney Michael Snedeker, of "Satan's Silence: Ritual Abuse and the Making of a Modern American Witch Hunt." She also is a board member of the National Center for Reason and Justice, a nonprofit group that works to educate the public about people falsely charged with child abuse.

I remember describing going to an airport and Ray taking us somewhere on an airplane. Then I realized the parents would have known the kids were gone from the school. I felt I'd screwed up and my lie had been caught--I was busted! I was so upset with myself! I remember breaking down and crying. I felt everyone knew I was lying. But my parents said, "You're doing fine. Don't worry." And everyone was saying how proud they were of me, not to worry.

I'm not saying nothing happened to anyone else at the McMartin Pre-School. I can't say that--I can only speak for myself. Maybe some things did happen. Maybe some kids made up stories about things that didn't really happen, and eventually started believing they were telling the truth. Maybe some got scared that the teachers would get their families because they were lying. But I never forgot I was lying.

My stepdad was a police officer who had guns in the house. I remember when all of this was coming down, he was put on a leave of absence from work because he was being investigated for supposedly threatening the McMartin family. He was cleared of that accusation--apparently it wasn't true. But being only 9 years old at the time, I thought my dad was saying he would kill the McMartins. So in my mind, I figured no one from the school was going to dare mess with him because he would have hurt them first. That made me feel secure. It could be a reason I never mixed up reality and fantasy and always knew I was lying.

But the lying really bothered me. One particular night stands out in my mind. I was maybe 10 years old and I tried to tell my mom that nothing had happened. I lay on the bed crying hysterically--I wanted to get it off my chest, to tell her the truth. My mother kept asking me to please tell her what was the matter. I said she would never believe me. She persisted: "I promise I'll believe you! I love you so much! Tell me what's bothering you!" This went on for a long time: I told her she wouldn't believe me, and she kept assuring me she would. I remember finally telling her, "Nothing happened! Nothing ever happened to me at that school."

She didn't believe me.

We had a highly dysfunctional family. We argued and fought all the time. My mother has always blamed anything negative on the idea that we went to that preschool and were molested. To this day, she believes these things went on. Because if they didn't, how can she explain all the family's problems? To this day, I can't open up with her about my personal problems. She's always asking me why I never do. That one night skewed our relationship.

Once the case was over, it was just over, in the past. The defendants were set free and that was it. The kids' parents never asked, "Why were they innocent? Why were they unable to find evidence to convict these people?"

My family has not seen the movies or read the books questioning the prosecution. It's like skeletons in a closet that you just don't want to take back out. I'm the only one who ever brings the topic up and who admits nothing ever happened to me. I've said I lied about everything, but I've never gotten a real response from my mother and stepfather. It seems really strange, seeing their reaction to the fact that nothing happened to me. If I had gone my whole life thinking my child was molested, I would be elated to find out that he or she wasn't. I'd like to think learning that your child was not molested would supersede anything. After all, all you have is your next day. It would be a shame to live the rest of your life thinking molestation had happened when you could think it didn't.

McMartin is something negative in my life and I'm trying to make it a positive. I've got two little kids I love dearly--they've changed the priorities in my life. My goal is to raise them as best as I can and try to lead by example. I want to be totally honest with them, to say, "This is something that happened to me. I did something dishonest, then at some point I was able to be honest about it." I want my children to be able to come to me like I wish I could have with my parents.

I'm a supermarket manager, and the thing I like best about my job is the interactions I get to have with customers' kids. I love talking and listening to them. I've been told I would be perfect for opening a children's day care. That's very ironic. I would love to look at the defendants from the McMartin Pre-School and tell them, "I'm sorry."

*

How and Why Kyle Came Forward

By Debbie Nathan

I first heard from Kyle Zirpolo via e-mail early this summer. He contacted me because I appear in the documentary film "Capturing the Friedmans," which he had just seen.

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