By Bill Pennington (New York Times)
November 6, 2011
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Nestled in a mountain range, the idyllic community that surrounds the campus of Penn State is often referred to as Happy Valley. But on an otherwise sunny, peaceful Sunday, residents throughout the area awoke to blaring headlines and news of unthinkable child abuse crimes that led to the arrests Saturday of a prominent former assistant football coach and two top university officials.
Even the most celebrated and admired Happy Valley inhabitant, Penn State's 84-year-old head football coach, Joe Paterno, was connected to the case, which turned an already horrendous story into a wounding body blow to the communal family.
"Penn State is such a national brand, so when something like this happens, it's terrible," said Adam Blaier, a 21-year-old senior from Marlboro, N.J., as he stood across from the university's stately stone administration building. "I'm disappointed. Something like this is 10 times worse that any recruiting violation. This is messing with peoples' lives."
Amanda Surovec, a 22-year-old senior, said, "I think most people are concerned that this is going to ruin the reputation of Penn State."
Jerry Sandusky, 67, the Penn State defensive coordinator during two of the team's national championship years before retiring in 1999, was arrested Saturday on charges of sexually abusing eight boys across a 15-year period.
Two top university officials — Gary Schultz, the senior vice president for finance and business, and Tim Curley, the athletic director — were charged with perjury and failure to report to authorities what they knew of the allegations, as required by state law. The Penn State board of trustees held an emergency meeting Sunday night, after which the university president, Graham B. Spanier, announced that Curley had asked to be placed on administrative leave while he fought the charges and that Schultz had resigned.
In 2002, Paterno learned of one allegation of abuse by Sandusky and immediately reported it to Curley. The grand jury did not implicate Paterno in any wrongdoing, but Paterno did not contact law enforcement authorities himself.
Spanier, who the grand jury said had been made aware of the 2002 incident, said in a statement that he stood behind the two officials. The university is also paying their legal fees. Spanier's statement prompted an angry response from one alumnus and former booster.
"If the board of trustees had one ounce of executive timber, they'd have resignations from Spanier, Curley and Paterno this week," said the former booster, Bill Earley, who estimated he had donated a six-figure sum to the university over the years.
At a local radio station, WKPS-FM, the call-in volume had jumped about 400 percent with one topic on everyone's mind, said Matt Steiner, president and general manager of the station.
"The biggest thing is that people are concerned Joe Paterno knew about it and hadn't said anything," Steiner said. "That's the biggest concern — that he's tied up in it and it will rub off and tarnish him.
"A lot of people are confused. They're scared. The biggest thing is why Paterno didn't go to the police. There is disappointment that he didn't do that."
Paterno, who has more career victories than any coach in Division I football history, issued a statement Sunday evening that concluded: "I understand that people are upset and angry, but let's be fair and let the legal process unfold. In the meantime, I would ask all Penn Staters to continue to trust in what that name represents, continue to pursue their lives every day with high ideals and not let these events shake their beliefs nor who they are."
Sandusky lives in a well-kept, two-story beige brick home with a large lawn at the end of a curving block of single-family dwellings in State College. Clarence Trotter, 94, has lived next door to Sandusky for about 30 years.
"I can't believe it," Trotter said of the allegations. "Everyone around here thought he was a good neighbor."
Trotter said that there were often children around the house, which has an extensive backyard. Trotter said the children had been adopted by Sandusky, who is married. The backyard was a lively place for playing sports and family picnics, Trotter said, and he recalled one foster child the Sanduskys took in for only a short time.
"They couldn't control him and they had to let him go," Trotter said. "I think that's what's happening to him; it's these kids who hold a grudge against him because he let them go who are saying these things."
Trotter said he remembered giving the Sanduskys food from his garden and they, in turn, invited him over for many family meals. Trotter also attends church with Sandusky, though he declined to specify which one.
"When we first learned about what was going on back in March, the parishioners passed around a card and signed it in support of Jerry," Trotter said. "We still do."
News that Sandusky was being investigated first surfaced in March.
A woman drove up to the Sandusky house Sunday night and rang the front doorbell. After there was no answer, when a reporter identified himself, the woman said: "Please don't bother us. Please respect our privacy."
Late Sunday afternoon outside Beaver Stadium, where there is a larger-than-life statue of Paterno and a mini-shrine to him, a steady stream of people gathered in front of the statue to have their picture taken. Young parents brought babies to pose next to the statue and couples brought dogs with Penn State football handkerchiefs tied to their collars. Everyone smiled beside the statue of Paterno. To the left of the statue is Paterno's full name and three words: Educator, Coach, Humanitarian.
Dorothy and Richard Howard of Columbus, Ohio, parked near the stadium and walked to the statue to take pictures. They had stopped in State College on their way to visit relatives in eastern Pennsylvania. Asked if the charges against Sandusky and Paterno's part in the preceding investigation troubled them, both Howards winced.
"I hope Coach Paterno didn't know more than he says he did," Dorothy Howard said. "I want to believe that. People look up to him and it's not just people from Pennsylvania. We all want to believe there are people of character who will do the right thing."
"I don't like reading about any of it; it's horrible. I want to believe everything possible was done to prevent it."
Mark Viera and Nate Schweber contributed reporting.