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The Victim Doesn't Forget
Youngstown resident Thomas Barnhart was a 34-year-old married father with three young sons when he signed up for the Scouts in the 1980s. His registration for the Boy Scout Council in Warren was soon revoked. He became another entry in the perversion files.
"Unfit to be around boys—psychological problems," reads the cover sheet of the folder kept by the Boy Scouts on Barnhart. The file was kept private at the organization's headquarters for 28 years until the Los Angeles Times uploaded it online last fall.
Correspondence from Scout leaders kept in his file explains why. On July 23, 1984, Warren district executive James L. Dillon wrote to Paul Ernst—the same administrator who let Lee Dalton back in the Scouts a year earlier in Utah—at the national office:
On the evening of July 18, 1984, Mr. Thomas Barnhart made strong advances towards a 12 year old Scout from our council. Mr. Barnhart places his hands down the Scout's pants. The Scout then asked to leave to go to the restroom and ran directly to our Camp Office. No violence happened, and Mr. Barnhart was escorted out of camp immediately. At this date he is sekking (sic) psychological help. Mr. Barnhart is married and has three (3) children. He was serving as a provisional scoutmaster on July 18th. The council president, lawyer and physician were notified. The Scout's parents were notified and came to camp on the evening of the incident. The Scout remained in camp and did not seem to show any signs of having troubles because of the incident. I feel that Mr. Barnhart's membership should be rescinded, and he should never be able to register in the Boy Scouts of America again.
They refunded his $3 registration fee and deleted him from the roster. The Boy Scouts washed their hands of Thomas Barnhart, who had sons ages 8, 9, and 13 at the time. It was taken care of "internally."
Nearly 10 years to the day after Scout officials documented that he was "unfit to be around boys—psychological problems," a Mahoning County grand jury filed a secret indictment against Thomas Barnhart: two counts of felony rape, one count of felony gross sexual imposition and one count of assault. The victim, a 12-year-old Youngstown boy who was not in Scouts, was the same age as the Scout Barhnhart had molested a decade earlier; the courts were in the dark about his past.
Barnhart pleaded guilty to each count of the 1994 indictment and was released in 2010.
Scene tracked down the kid that put Barnhart away in 1994. We will refer to him using the name "Charles." He had never heard that Barnhart was affiliated with the Scouts, that he wasn't the only kid to make accusations against him and that the Boy Scouts knew about Barnhart.
Charles told Scene how Barnhart gained his and his family's trust to let him sleep at Barnhart's house, how he started abusing him, and what finally got him to turn him in. He also told of the self-blaming, self-hatred, and self-destructive behavior that led him to drug abuse and earn stints in prison he connects to the abuse.
"I buried this shit so deep down, dude," says Charles, explaining he's only talked about it to a few people since 1994 and that even those closest to him have no clue what he went through this as a kid. "I believe it fucked my life up, I really do."
Charles spent the first decade of his life in a small town just outside Youngstown before his mother moved the family to the lower north side of the city when his half-brother was born.
"There were a bunch of us kids, neighborhood kids, that would all hang out together," he says. He became good friends with one of the kids and began having sleepovers there, like kids do.
That friend's father was Thomas Barnhart.
"Well, he would make things real comfortable for me," Charles—who was 11 or 12 at the time—says about his friend's dad. "He'd buy me cigarettes, get us drunk, smoke weed, party all night long, have a good time. Whatever we wanted to do, we were able to do that."
Barnhart "manipulated and coerced" his way into the kid's life, taking advantage of an argument Charles had with his mother at the time.
"I didn't want to be at my mom's house and he played on that," says Charles, "telling me, 'You don't have to stay there, you can come stay here, come stay with me. You want cigarettes? Here. You want to go to the I-X Amusement Park? Here. You want ice cream? Here. You want liquor? Here.' He basically manipulated himself into my life until he got so far into my life that he could do that to me."
Barnhart made his move: "He talked his way into molesting me. At first I didn't know it was wrong and it happened again." The first time it happened, he prayed to god it would end.
"I remember him telling me crazy things," says Charles. "I remember telling him, 'I'm not gay, I'm not gay,' and he would tell me about relationships he's had with other men. I told him I was going to tell on him one time and he told me, 'I'll go to prison and I'll always remember this.'"
Charles didn't realize he was being preyed upon.
"It took me a long time to come to the realization that I didn't even know that what the fuck was going on to me was wrong, to stop what was happening," he says. "I didn't even know it was wrong, that a man and a kid shouldn't be sucking each other's dicks. I didn't know that was wrong, I had no idea."
Barnhart started to get more possessive of Charles and wanted to spend more time with him.
"He wanted me to stay, pretty much wanted me to move in, and I didn't want to do that," he explains—Charles had moved back to his nearby hometown when this happened. Charles finally ran out of Barnhart's house one day, but the adult caught up to him on his porch and punched the kid in the nose. Bloodied, Charles was able to call his mom to pick him up.
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