NORTHBRIDGE, Mass. – The arrest of Andrew Myers, scoutmaster for Boy Scout Troop 155 until last Tuesday, came as a complete surprise to those who know him.
Trusted and admired by the scouting community, Myers was arrested April 21 for possession of child pornography and for allegedly using the Internet to entice minors to perform sexual acts.
“It came as a total surprise. Nobody saw this coming,’’ said Charles Thompson, long-time scoutmaster for Troop 155 and now president of the Mohegan Council Boy Scouts of America. Thompson said he has known Myers since the accused was 11 and a scout in Troop 155.
Thompson said he’s never seen improper behavior by Myers; that he always followed the Council’s very strict Youth Protection Policy, which prohibits one-on-one interaction between leaders and scouts. The program is designed to make sure the kids are kept from harm. “We never sleep with the kids; we never share tents,’’ Thompson said.
Myers, who is an attorney, was also a substitute teacher in Northbridge and teacher’s aide in Millbury. At a hearing last Thursday, Myers waived his right to a preliminary hearing and is being held at Wyatt Detention Center in Central Falls pending Grand Jury action. He is being represented by Oscar Cruz of Boston, who was unavailable for comment.
The charges against Myers stem from an alleged incident in Colorado, according to U.S. Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz.
When news of the arrest broke, Thompson said, “we were all pretty bewildered by it, and then the media came into town full bore and contacted members of our troop.'’
He believes the media found member names and photos on the group’s web page, part of which has now been blocked, and it will likely be password protected in the future.
Troop administrators are also trying to have Myers' Facebook account blocked as it contains photos of troop members. None of the photos are inappropriate, Thompson said, but it makes parents uncomfortable knowing they’re there.
A week later, “we don’t know any more about this than we knew the day of the arrest,’’ Thompson said, and that’s almost nothing.
The FBI is interviewing some troop members, those whom Myers contacted often via email on troop activities. “But there is nothing in the charges connected with our troop,’’ Thompson said.
After news of the arrest broke, it was imperative to make sure the boys were OK, Thompson said, so he notified the pastor of Village Congregational Church, which sponsors the troop, and called an emergency meeting of the local Boy Scout Council.
“We needed to assess what our response to the public would be, but more importantly, how we would respond to parents and Scouts," Thompson said.
At that meeting, the council drafted a letter, which was mailed to parents that night suggesting a plan of action. First and foremost, parents were asked to talk to their sons about whether there had been inappropriate behavior.
“As painful and difficult as it was, we needed to find out whether there was misconduct in our troop,’’ Thompson said.
They also urged parents to attend a meeting at the high school held last week involving the U.S. Attorney, the FBI, school officials, local police and Craig Maxim from Family Continuity.
There were about 120 people at that meeting, and about half were Scout parents, he said.
“It was a good meeting,’’ he noted, but additional information on the charges was not provided which attendees were told is the norm when it’s an “ongoing investigation,’’ he said.
The council also held a private meeting with parents at which they talked about the Youth Protection Program which shields kids from abuse,’’ Thompson said. Maxim also attended and offered counseling services if parents felt they were necessary.
Lastly, they held a second meeting for parents and scouts who felt the need to verbalize questions and concerns.
The boys are struggling, Thompson said.
“The kids liked Andy; he was a good scoutmaster.’’ And though it’s uncalled for, some of the boys feel “shame,’’ Thompson said, and that’s an issue parents and troop adults will try to help them work through.
But the boys are also proud of the good they do in the community and are thinking ahead to Sept. 8, their food drive at Walmart, which will be their first public appearance since the Myers arrest.
Thompson said he hopes the community will come out in force to support them.