Even before Joyce Tobin arrived at the Day Care Center on Nov. 14, 1986, she suspected that something was wrong. Her neighbor Karen Thomas had just called to say that Joyce’s 3 year old son had begged to go home with her when she picked up her own youngster at the Child Development Center that morning. Joyce’s son had said he didn’t want to stay for day care after his preschool class ended.
When Thomas said she couldn’t take him with her, the Tobin boy turned to his preschool teacher and asked if he could stay with her. But she had no choice. Joyce Tobin was at the dentist across town and had arranged for her son to be taken from his preschool class at the CDC to hourly care until she could pick him up. Until the boy started preschool two months earlier, he had been left at center once or twice a month for two years. It was only the second time he had been left in hourly care since September both times while his mother had medical appointments
The preschool and hourly care programs were both run by the US. Army at the Presidio of San Francisco, a sprawling compound of turn of the century wood and brick buildings, headquarters of the Sixth Army, the place that motorists glimpse through the pines on their way to the Golden Gate Bridge.
On that day that changed her life and the lives of her family, Joyce Tobin arrived at the Presidio day care center at 2:30 p.m. Her son appeared to be napping with several other children, and the teacher, Gary Hambright, was sitting at a table in the room.
When Joyce asked how her son had been that day, Hambright said the boy had been upset and had not eaten his lunch. He called the child a “darling little boy” and suggested that she bring him to the day care center every other day so that the boy could “get used to him.” A lot of 3 and 4yearolds had trouble coming to his daycare room, Hambright told her. He suggested they were intimidated by the older children in the class.
That night, while watching television with his older brother, the 3-year-old started playing with his penis, pulling it forward with both hands and letting go. “Mr. Gary do it,” he said and kept at it. His brother ran for their mother, who was talking to a neighbor in the front doorway. Trying to keep her voice calm, Joyce asked her son what he was talking about.
The child’s reply was terse and grim. “He touched my penis with his hand, and he bit my penis.” The boy made a chomping sound with his mouth. Asked if “Mr. Gary” had done anything else, the boy said, “He put a pencil in my hole in my bottom. He do that, he do that to me. He hurt me and I cry and I cry.”
Joyce Tobin was unsure what to think. “It seemed too impossible and horrible to be true,” she said later. “I also thought how awful it would be to accuse someone of this if it were not true.” She watched her young son bite his nails and turn his head away. He seemed nervous and upset.
When her husband, Capt. Mike Tobin, came home, the couple decided to observe their son over the weekend. They agreed they would not question him, but would wait to see if he said anything more. At bedtime, Joyce, who had trained as a nurse, examined the boy’s anus; it seemed a little red.
That night, the boy came to their bedroom crying. He said he was scared. He said he wanted to sleep with them.
During the next few days, what had seemed at first “too impossible and horrible to be true” would not go away. The boy continued to talk about “Mr. Gary” hurting him.
The following Tuesday, on Nov. 18, Joyce Tobin was driving through the Presidio with the boy. When they came to the intersection where she would have turned to go to the day care center, he raised himself up out of his car seat, as if he were attempting to get out, and started to cry. “Are you taking me to day care?” He asked. “I don’t want to go to day care. Mr. Gary hurt me and I cry.” Reassured that they were not going to the day care center, the boy calmed down.
The mother could not. The incident convinced her that she should contact the day care center. On Wednesday, she called the director, Diana Curl and asked for an appointment to discuss her son’s allegation. Despite the seriousness of the complaint, Curl said she couldn’t see Joyce until Friday, two days later. Within half an hour of the call, Joyce was called at home by one of her son’s pre-school teachers wanting to know what the problem was. The day care center staff had been told immediately about Joyce’s call. Authorities did not search the center until Friday.
Joyce Tobin never got to meet with Diana Curl. The case broke before then. On Thursday, Mike Tobin spoke with a chaplain at the Presidio, who contacted the Army’s Criminal Investigation Division. Officers from the CID made an appointment to interview and videotape the boy about his allegations. After the video taped interview on the morning of Nov. 21, the Tobins’ son was examined at the Child Adolescent Sexual Abuse Referral Center (CASARC) at San Francisco General Hospital.
CASARC reviews more than 700 cases of suspected sexual abuse every year. Among other things, the CASARC staff had often heard children describe anal rape as having a pencil put in their bottoms. When Dr. Kevin Coulter examined the Tobins’ son, he observed that the child’s anus dilated to approximately 20 millimeters in approximately five seconds, a much faster and wider dilation than normal. Coulter had conducted more than 300 examinations of children at CASARC. His conclusion was that such rapid and wide dilation was caused by trauma to the anus and rectum, consistent with penetration. The Tobins’ 3-year-old son had been sexually abused, anally raped.
A FLURRY OF MEETINGS AT THE PRESIDIO followed the revelation that the Tobin boy had been abused. But for all the activity, the Army seemed in no hurry to proceed with the case. It took the Army 12 days to form a strategy group. And it took the Army almost a month to notify the parents of other children who had been in “Mr. Gary’s” class that the incident had taken place, that their children might be at risk. Nearly a year would pass before more than 59 other victims children between the ages of 3 and 7 had been identified. And allegations would be made by parents that several more children were molested even after the investigation had begun.
Day care centers under state jurisdiction are routinely closed when an abuse incident is confirmed, but the Presidio center stayed open for more than a year after the Tobin boy said “Mr. Gary” had hurt him.
A strategy meeting on Dec. 10 set the tone for the case. The meeting was attended by all the brass from the Presidio, representatives of the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office and staff from the Child Adolescent Sexual Abuse Referral Center. The CASARC workers told the Army to expect multiple victims, so many that CASARC could not offer its help. But the Army “didn’t want to believe that,” says one CASARC worker who attended the meeting.
Five days later, on Dec. 15, letters were mailed to 242 parents whose children were in Hambright’s classes. “The Commander of the Presidio of San Francisco, has been apprised of a single incident of alleged child sexual abuse reported to have occurred at the Presidio Child Development Center…….
“We have no reason to believe that other children have been victimized.” Many parents who received the letter took the Army at its word. Many of them didn’t learn until the following April, after the Tobins and other parents forced the Army to send out another letter, that their children had been victims.
Other parents found out right away. The children had begun to talk. And they kept talking. That was the problem. They kept saying things that no one, especially not the Army, wanted to hear. They kept mentioning other people besides “Mr. Gary,” other locations besides the day care center. Among the allegations:
- Some of the children said they were taken from the day care center to private homes on the Presidio where they were sexually abused. Two houses were singled out on the Army post and at least one home off-post, in San Francisco.
- One girl said she played “poopoo baseball” at the home of one of her female teachers. The girl said the game involved throwing feces at the teacher.
- Other children talked about playing the”googoo game” with “Mr. Gary”. It involved Hambright having the children urinate and defecate on him. Then he would do the same to them. Sometimes, the children said, they were forced to drink urine and eat feces. Some said they had blood smeared on their bodies.
- Some children said they had guns pointed at them. Others said they were told they or their parents would be killed if they told what happened.>
- One 3-year-old boy said he was sexually abused on his first visit to the center. That day was also his birthday.
- A 3-year-old girl said “Mr. Gary” used special pens, black, blue, pink and red — to doodle on her, starting at her legs and moving up over her genitals. The same child said she saw one of her friends at the center cry when “Mr. Gary’s” friend, a woman, pointed a gun at the friend.
- There were five confirmed cases of Chlamydia, a sexually transmitted disease, including two of the four daughters of one family.
- A preliminary test of one boy for AIDS came back positive. Further tests revealed that a he did not have the disease, but fear of AIDS tormented parents for months. .
DESPITE THE RUMORS AND ALLEGATIONS, THE Army, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office were united in wanting a simple pedophile case. The Army wanted the matter over with. The prosecutors wanted a case they would win. The more unusual the allegations, they felt, the harder it would be to win in court. So on Jan. 5, 1987, Gary Willard Hambright was arrested.
Hambright, 35, was an ordained Southern Baptist minister without a pulpit. After moving to the Bay Area in 1977 from his home in Tacoma, Wash., he worked as a substitute teacher in San Francisco schools before taking the $7.59 per hour job at the day care center in 1985. At his arraignment, he described himself as “an educator, not a criminal.” His close friend Gordon Grover, a beauty salon owner, said the thin, pale man with blond hair is “probably one of the most gentle people you will ever know.”
“He’s always got time to give kids a hug when they’re crying” Grover said “He’s just really a kind person.”
After the arrest, Hambright took part-time jobs cleaning houses and washing windows. He lived with friends and continued to be closely associated with Dolores Street Baptist Church in San Francisco.
The indictment that Assistant US Attorney Susan Gray had sought from the grand jury charged Hambright with molesting only one child. He was accused of sodomy, oral copulation and committing a lewd and lascivious act on a child.
In March, three months after Hambright’s arrest, the charges were dismissed. US District Court Judge William Schwarzer refused to allow the admission of so-called hearsay statements, specifically the comments the Tobin boy made to his brother and mother, and to the nurse and the doctor who examined him about the abuse. Several states allow exceptions to the hearsay rules in child abuse cases, but federal courts and California state courts do not.
Schwarzer refused the hearsay evidence on March 4 and ruled that the Tobin boy would not qualify as a competent witness because of his age.
On March 20, the US Attorney’s Office asked that the charges be dismissed without prejudice, meaning they could be refiled if new evidence emerged. Prosecutor Gray told the judge she had 12 more children saying the same things as the Tobin boy. Gray had counted on the judge’s allowing the admission of statements the Tobin boy made to his brother on the day he first said “Mr. Gary” hurt him as well as similar comments made to the nurse and doctor who examined him. The medical evidence and the “perfect witness” parents made her even more confident. Joyce Tobin was a nurse. Mike Tobin was a West Point graduate and a nuclear engineer.
But the Army’s investigation of the Tobin boy’s allegations had gotten off to a shaky start when Army Criminal investigative Special Agent Marc Remson was assigned to interview the child.
Remson had never interviewed a child younger than 8 years old. And while Army regulations required that the interview be taped, Remson had never used videotape in an interview. The regulation was later changed, but the damage had been done. The videotape was to be singled out repeatedly as an example of how the children had been coached and prodded to tell their stories.
Joyce Tobin, according to court records, said that during the interview, “apparently in an attempt to establish rapport with my son, (the CID investigator) said that Mr. Gary was bad and should be spanked. He said this numerous times. Thereafter, in the week that followed when [my son] spoke about Mr. Gary, he described Mr. Gary as bad and said he should be spanked.
“Prior to the CID interview [my son] had never said anything like that or attempted to make any value judgment about what had happened to him. He just reported what had happened to him,” Joyce Tobin told the prosecution.
WITH THE CHARGES DISMISSED, GRAY’S attempt at a simple pedophile case had failed. The court would not hear of the Presidio again until the end of September 1987. The Tobins were disappointed but not defeated. They had begun calling and writing congressmen, calling and meeting with Army officials at the Presidio.
By April, another battle had shaped up outside the Courtroom. The Army insisted that the day care center was safe, that all of the victims had been identified. Parents feared otherwise because their children had mentioned people other than Hambright — people who still worked at the day care center.
At first, it was the Tobins alone who kept asking: Was this done? Did you check on that? What about the other children? By April, the Tobins had been joined by the Runyans the Adams-Thompsons the Dorseys, the Foxes. Most had not met before. They were to meet many times in the months to come.
Their first priority was to get another letter mailed to Parents of other children who had attended the day care center. The Army saw no need for that. “Why are you doing this?” Lt. Col. Walter Meyer, the director of personnel and community activities, asked Mike Tobin. “Because parents need to know what’s happening.” Tobin told him. The letter was delayed for two weeks while Meyer argued over whether the number of victims mentioned in the letter should be 32 or 37. When Joyce Tobin and Brenda Fox went to his office to discuss the letter, Meyer said he didn’t have time to talk, Fox recalls, that he was on his way “to make a videotape about the CDC, about it being a model day care center. He said, “despite what you may believe, this is a model day care center”
“I sat there thinking, ‘this man has no soul,'” she says, “We told him the numbers were wrong.” He said, ‘no, they’re not’ . “We waited while he called and found out the numbers were wrong.”
“Under the signatures of Joyce and Mike Tobin, Gretchen and Dennis Runyan, Sue and Tom Dorsey, Michelle and Larry Adams-Thompson, and Brenda and Don Fox, the letter, dated April 29, 1987, was mailed to parents. “We feel you should know there are now 37 children identified by the authorities as suspected victims,” the letter said in part, “we are very concerned that there may be more children affected and in need of help, yet remain unidentified. ”
The core group of parents consisted of professional people – doctors, a dentist, a nuclear scientist. They spoke out loud and often. They said they spoke for those who could not, the children and the enlisted people who, they said, were too afraid to risk their military career to speak out. The enlisted people needed their jobs and the day care. The core group could afford day care elsewhere.
“When it first started, they had the chance to be heroes,” parent Melanie Thompson said about the Army instead, they just didn’t want to believe it, Now, they’re just trying to cover it up like a bad dream.”
NONE OF THE PARENTS WHO WERE PROTESTING the Army’s handling of the case knew that signs of trouble had surfaced at the center at least six years earlier. And none of them knew that the Army had been dealing with sex abuse problems at its day care centers for years before the Presidio case broke.
The Army said nothing of prior cases at West Point and Fort Dix. The Army said nothing of an investigation six years before involving John Gunnarson, the Presidio’s top day care official and the supervisor of the day care center during the time Hambright allegedly molested the children.
In 1982, Gunnarson was child support services coordinator at the center, responsible for the training of the center staff, when he was arrested on charges of assaulting an employee of the center, Pearl Broadnax. Broadnax had been complaining about conditions at the center and treatment of the children. She say she was branded a troublemaker and often called to task about her job performance. On Feb. 3, 1982, she and Gunnarson argued over the use of scissors by the children. He asked her to go into another room to continue the discussion, but Broadnax said she wanted to remain in the playroom. “At this time,” according to an investigative report of the incident, “Gunnarson grabbed Broadnax by the left arm above her wrist and pulled her toward him. She then told Gunnarson, “don’t touch me,” to which he replied, I’m not touching you.’ She felt that she was in fear of bodily harm at this point in the incident.
Gunnarson declined to be interviewed about the incident but responded to questions through Presidio spokesman Bob Mahoney. “I did not grab Mrs. Broadnax; I did not assault her, and I had no intention of harming her,” he related to Mahoney. “In the course of our conversation, Mrs. Broadnax became agitated and appeared to be losing control of herself. I attempted to calm her by lightly touching her arm to guide her out from the room where we were talking.”
The charge against Gunnarson was dismissed for lack of evidence. The incident could possibly be dismissed as an unfortunate misunderstanding, except that investigation at the time led to allegations of physical and sexual abuse of children at the center, according to former military police investigator Ed Albanoski, then the chief of juvenile investigations at the Presidio.
Now a deputy sheriff in Santa Clara County, Albanoski called after he read one of my stories about the Presidio case. “When I read the paper, I almost fell out of my chair,” Albanoski said “‘I couldn’t believe [Gunnarson] was still working there” While interviewing Broadnax at the day care center after she had called MPs about Gunnarson, Albanoski learned that Broadnax was concerned about more than the alleged threat of harm to herself. She also alleged that employees had touched children’s genitals improperly.
Broadnax had provoked an investigation of the center a year earlier, after talking to parents who said they felt their children were discriminated against because they were minorities. Broadnax also said she had seen the then director of the center hit a child in the mouth, making him bleed.
In a telephone interview from her home in Alabama, Broadnax told me she had complained many times about problems at the center during the four years she worked there “but just gave up. Nobody seemed to be concerned. I ended up having a nervous breakdown over that.”
“Right before I left, I saw a woman beat a kid until he just threw up,” she said “I did all I could to get something done about that. They removed her, but she was back working there after I left.”
Capt. Robert J. Meyer was appointed to look into the allegations for the commander of the Presidio in a letter summarizing his findings, Meyers said, “at least three of the Child Care Center staff have been threatened with the loss of their jobs if they speak out and tell the truth about how the Child Care Center is being managed and how the minority children are treated.” A hearing was held at the Presidio on the allegations in 1981. The director in question was reinstated.
The next year, when Albanoski reported the sex abuse allegations to Presidio officials, he was told “to stop any investigation I was told there was nothing to look into, that Gunnarson would be dealt with through his command channels .” Military Police Investigator’s Report No 00193-82/MP1026-82-047, dated Feb. 4, 1982, was filed on the incident. Albanoski held on to a copy of that report. He sensed that it might be important some day.
The Army didn’t take it quite so seriously.
“That particular case was not known to any of us in the chain of command,” current Presidio Commander Joseph V. Rafferty said last December. “Mr. Gunnarson had one of the finest reputations in the Army with respect to running a child care center.”
A year after he was arrested, Gunnarson was cited in an inspection report by officials from the US Army Forces Command for “doing an excellent job as the Child Support Services Coordinator. The staff training program he developed utilizing the Military Child Care modules is model for the Army.”
But allegations of abuse at the day care center would persist.
Former Army Capt. Gary Boswell approached Gunnarson in April 1985 after picking up his daughter at the day care center.
“She had a red spot on her hand, where she had been burned. She said, ‘the teacher burned me.’ This girl was taking the kids and taking a magnifying glass and holding their hands until they jerked their hand away and cried,” said Boswell, who now works as a civilian employee at the Presidio. “I went to see Gunnarson and wasn’t terribly pleased. He said he’d look into it. We came back, the next day and he said he had talked to the person, that there were no eye witnesses and ‘it’s your daughter’s word against hers, so we can’t do anything’ we took our daughter out of the day care center a short time later.”
Sue Dorsey contacted Gunnarson in June of 1986 to complain about an abuse incident she says she witnessed.
Dorsey, the wife of Army Capt Tom Dorsey, a physician, said she had just dropped her daughter off at the day care center and was walking out of the building when she noticed “a woman on her hands and knees, bent over, putting her hand’s in a little girl’s pants.” “The woman took her hands out from the little girl’s pants and put them under the little girl’s top and tickled her on both breasts and then went back down into the pants into the vaginal area and tickled her there.”
After relating the incident to the assistant director of the center, Dorsey said she was told that the woman Dorsey had seen with the little girl “was just playing innocent tickling games”
Dorsey went to Gunnarson who, she says, replied “So what you’re telling me is that she tickled the little girl on her private parts.” Dorsey returned home and called Gunnarson later in the day. “He said, ‘I’m going to write something up in her personnel file'”