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NY Medical Mystery: Parents Want Answers
Aired February 2, 2012 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DR. DREW PINSKY, HOST: Here we go.
New York Medical Mystery, parents who want answers. Our team on the ground speaks to them exclusively in a candid living room interview. Their anguish, their struggle and their crusade to help their children.
And later, police say a teacher performed and photographed child sex bondage in his classroom. I`m talking to a former student who says her cry for help over two decades ago went ignored.
Let`s get started.
Good evening and thanks for joining us. Now, first up, I`ve got to tell you. We have a story tonight that needs to be told, but I warn you it is tough, it is graphic, and if you`re like me, it will disgust some of you.
It involves a teacher arrested and charged with some sickening crimes against his young students and we`re talking about kids. We`re going to inform you about it, because it`s just something that`s important to understand what`s out there, certain kinds of human behavior and its impact on others. That`s going to be coming later in the show.
Right now, though, the call for answers grows louder in Upstate New York. And tonight, why a cluster of people in the town of Le Roy suffering from twitches and tics, why is it happening?
Doctors diagnosed some of the teens affected with conversion disorder, which is something potentially caused by trauma and so-called stress. Environmental Activist Erin Brockovich wants to test the soil in the area because there was a toxic spill from a train derailment in 1670, in fact the largest spill of TCE in the country.
The schools and the community, are they doing enough to inform parents about what`s going on?
With me tonight, Bob Bowcock, Erin Brockovich`s associate, who is conducting tests in Le Roy. Psychiatrist Dr. John Sharp, who is on the faculty of Harvard Medical School. He`s also author of book "The Emotional Calendar."
And first I`m going out to HLN Correspondent Jim Spellman on the ground tonight in Le Roy. Can you give us the latest?
JIM SPELLMAN, HLN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Dr. Drew, we have had some really troubling information here about the school, Le Roy Middle, Senior High School. There are six natural gas wells on school grounds. This gas has been extracting using a technique called fracking where a liquid with water and some potentially very dangerous chemicals is injected into the ground to release the gas.
But we`ve obtained some documents that show us that last summer, a month and a half before the first girl became symptomatic, that they were cited for two of these wells spilling this liquid onto the ground, killing trees and vegetation around the area of these well heads.
This is right in the area where Bob Bowcock and his team were trying to get soil samples, and it`s where students every day play, do sports, practice their sports right there on school grounds, Dr. Drew.
PINSKY: All right. Well, let`s get - let`s show you some shots of the playing field so we can localize this at the high school. I`m going to show you an aerial shot of the football and baseball fields in relation to the gas wells. You can see that right there.
The report says the brine tank is leaking, brines are openings, brine is in the gravel around the well. The grass is not burned but the trees next to the site are dead. That`s what the report say.
All right. Here, let`s take a look closer at the wells by those two high school playing fields. As you can see, dead trees, burned grass, and you can see the effects of at least the brine around the area.
Jim, anything have been done recently in regard to this leak?
SPELLMAN: Well, as you know, Dr. Drew, the school has hired attorneys and they wouldn`t let us speak directly to school officials or go on to school grounds. But from an adjacent road, I can clearly see that at least the largest trees that are dead are still there. They look just like they do in that Google Satellite photo.
So we haven`t gotten official word. I`ve been asking them for 24 hours to respond and tell us if and how they`ve mitigated these circumstances. No official response, but I can still clearly see those dead trees.
PINSKY: Now you spoke to a few parents and their kids about the spill near the field. We`re going to take a look at that in a second.
But first, I want to go to Bob. Bob, I - I understood these wells are not using fracking. I do not want to create panic here about some wells near a high school that`s allegedly using fracking. Aren`t there wells at the - at the site that leak brine, that uses brine because that`s a shallow well, and then there are nearby wells that use fracking. Is that not the case?
BOB BOWCOCK, CONDUCTING ENVIRONMENTAL TESTS IN LE ROY, NY: Well, we`re not exactly sure because we haven`t had the opportunity to discuss this with school officials.
As Jim said, we`re concerned about what`s going on there. The chemicals or the brine that`s used, you know, brine in industry has been used as a code word for fracking fluid. They are indeed pumping at about one gallon a minute this fluid down into the well to cause the gas to be produced, for it to come up in the well.
So we`re - frankly we`re not sure. What we`ve asked the school to produce is the Material Safety Data Sheet, referred to as an MSDS, to tell us exactly what`s in that chemical mixture.
PINSKY: All right, so -
BOWCOCK: If you recall, I can tell just this last year - yes, Dr. Drew? Just (INAUDIBLE) last year -
PINSKY: I just don`t want to start - I don`t want to start a big panic about this. The fact is if we don`t know this is fracking, you know, I don`t want to start going down this path and be accused of, you know, reporting something for the sake of reporting it. I want to know what`s going on there before we start to make accusations or even worry about what may be going on.
Apparently, the fracking - there is fracking I`m being told in one area, but I don`t know that that`s the stuff near the school. Because of what I`ve read about the stuff near the school is that it`s a shallow well that pumps the gas directly up and the school uses it and it`s not using fracking. Jim, do you have any response to that?
SPELLMAN: Dr. Drew, let me tell you. I obtained this big stack of documents with all their permitting information and I ran it by two noted experts from two universities, Cornell and the University of Nevada today, went through all of the specifics with them. There`s no doubt in their mind or my mind that this is fracking going on here, absolutely positive of that.
And these experts said this is definitely troubling, without taking those soil samples and really investigating what`s coming out of the ground there, we can`t indeed determine whether this is causing anything or putting students in danger, but it is definitely fracking and definitely a concern to the experts and to the parents that I`ve spoken to.
PINSKY: And Bob, is that - do you think that`s why you`re being stonewalled at the school or why they`ve hired attorneys?
BOWCOCK: Absolutely, I think that`s one of the concerns. I mean, if you recall, I`m looking at the gas production wells, as well as the fill that was used to fill the swamp in, as well as the stormwater system on the school. All of these things combined, and certainly if it turns out to be fracking chemicals would be interrelated.
PINSKY: All right. No, Jim, as I said, you spoke to some of the parents and kids about this possible spill and what`s going on near the field. Let`s take look at that.
SPELLMAN (on camera): So on the property, there are several natural gas wells, right? There are on school property that feed natural gas right into the school that`s used for heating and other things. What do you make of that?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It could be what`s making them sick. I have no idea.
LAUREN SCALZO, SUFFERS FROM "MEDICAL MYSTERY": I only have a few friends left and just like half of the people think that I`m faking. I`m not faking. I couldn`t fake something like this. It`s too much of a pain.
SPELLMAN: What do you think when you see those barrels and see that that`s the site four years later?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Somebody dropped the ball.
PINSKY: Well, we have more of that interview later in the show.
Jim, were you surprised that the parents didn`t know more about all this?
SPELLMAN: I figured that given these (INAUDIBLE) to this well inspection reports that cite them for having this overflow and this dead vegetation, I figured that that`s something school officials would make parents aware of, and that they will keep them apprised of the steps they`ve taken to mitigate that and make everything right again.
And they were absolutely clueless. No parents I`ve spoken to had any word from the school that there had been those violations. They were shocked. They were very shocked. I was the first person to tell them about it.
PINSKY: And I think that`s what we`re sort of finding is a trend here of a really good job by the teacher and the nurses, but the administration taking kind of a funny, defensive posture on all this.
All right. We`re going to keep this conversation going.
Coming up, we`re going to talk to a father who has a lot of concerns regarding the school`s response to the situation. He wants answers. And school and community officials apparently aren`t forthcoming. Stay with us.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SCALZO: I want this to stop. I want all of this pain to really go away. Like I hate seeing people on a daily basis like do what we do.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
POLICE CHIEF CHRISTOPHER HAYWARD, VILLAGE OF LE ROY: As a parent and in my official capacity as chief, I work with the school on a daily basis and I`m, you know, I`d be hard pressed to believe that the school would put our kids in the building if they thought that there was any risk to the kids` safety and all, because the school first and foremost, in my dealings with them has always been about the safety of the kids.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY: The mystery has an entire community and in fact the entire country concerned. What caused a clustering of young people to have these Tourette`s-like symptoms, environmental factors, or is this conversion disorder?
Joining me from Le Roy, New York, is Adam Smith along with HLN correspondent Jim Spellman. Adam`s son goes to Le Roy High School, and he has a lot of concerns about what`s not being done. His son does not have the syndrome at this point.
Back with me as well, Psychiatrist John Sharp and also Erin Brockovich`s Associate Bob Bowcock.
Adam, tell us now, what is that you`re concerned about?
ADAM SMITH, LE ROY RESIDENT: Well, I`m really concerned about the lack of information coming from the school and the town. We`re new to Le Roy. We`ve lived here since June, and it`s a beautiful place to live. It`s gorgeous here, and it has been a really good time living here so far.
But my wife and I have three children that go to school here, one of them in the high school, and it`s very upsetting knowing that there are natural gas wells on there, as well as information about this toxic spill, not a few miles away from the school, but we`re not hearing anything from the school, from the towns.
For us, this is really the first and only news source we`re getting as far as any information about this. And so it`s just kind of disconcerting not hearing from the school, in any official capacity, to the parents.
PINSKY: Now, Adam, my understanding is the school met with the 7th and 8th graders, is that right, but that, too, was kept from the parents. Is that - is that accurate?
SMITH: From what I understand, they had an assembly, but I was never given any information about it until after it happened. Reading through the letter, I believe you did some excerpts from it on last night`s show. I was reading it at the same time it was on TV, and I couldn`t believe the tone of the letter I think is what surprised me the most.
PINSKY: Yes. It wasn`t very nice. It wasn`t very nice.
But I will tell you what I keep hearing, Adam, is that the school nurse and the teachers are an excellent resource for you. They`re doing everything they can.
What seems a little choppier is what`s coming from the administration. And I don`t know if they have some liability or - we don`t know what`s going on.
I`m going to ask the psychiatrist here, though, if you should be doing anything specific. Dr. Sharp, should they be doing anything specific with that kids that don`t have the symptoms? Should they be going to the school? Should they be - encourage them to talk about it?
DR. JOHN SHARP, PSYCHIATRIST, HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL: Well, I think they should be talking about it. I think finding a way to reduce anxiety clearly is protective and can be actually preventative in a situation like this.
So good open dialogue, good trusting person that can be a parent, it can be somebody in the school. It could be a counselor outside. Develop a relationship that`s going to matter.
PINSKY: And Bob, I know we`ve got a lot of stuff we`re trying to get through here tonight. Anything new from the EPA?
BOWCOCK: We haven`t heard anything official from the EPA. I was told just before coming on that the EPA Publicity Department has issued a statement, but there`s no new information in that statement. It goes back to March, 2008 -
PINSKY: Well, let me - I`m going to - Bob, I`m going to go ahead and - I`m going to go ahead and read that statement. It`s from a spokesperson from (INAUDIBLE) office.
He told our team, "The area and groundwater are contaminated with TCE," they are. "However, the groundwater flows in the opposite direction of the school," which I think Bob your concern is not that it`s flowing in the opposite direction, but that during flooding or with the pumping of the gas, there`s something that cause it to flow towards the school.
EPA goes on, "We are sampling the drums," that`s the drums at the toxic - at the train derailment site, "to see if they`re contaminated, but don`t believe the dirt in the drums is contaminated." Jim, do you think that`s accurate?
SPELLMAN: Well, we saw crews out there today wearing protective yellow suits out there, working on taking samples from the drums. They certainly think it`s at least worth taking the precautions of wearing those suits, so I think it`s seriously an open question, whether or not there`s anything contaminated in those drums.
And, either way you slice it, Dr. Drew, it`s been 40 years since that derailment, and those barrels themselves have been there for years. Why are they sitting on the side of the road all this time? I don`t think we`ve heard a good answer to that yet.
PINSKY: Yes, and why would they be labeled as toxic and dangerous if they`re not toxic and dangerous? That`s the part I don`t understand.
Bob, I want to ask you that question, and somebody during my Facebook chat today asked an interesting question, do we have any evidence of wildlife or pets being affected by this?
BOWCOCK: Well, the first question you asked is, is it protocol that those barrels should be left there? I will tell you, absolutely not. You know, at the - at the longest outset, no more than 30 days should - should hazardous materials be stored on a site like that. Even the non-hazardous materials should be moved out within 30 days, and clearly these barrels have been there for five plus years.
So, let`s just cut to the chase there. They didn`t follow protocol, and they have exposed the community to additional risk.
As far as the animals, you know, being out there, literally on Saturday we were - we were in a snowstorm. You know, there was no evidence of animal life. That`s something that we`re going to have to investigate with community members as to whether or not there are animals that have been impacted.
PINSKY: And Adam, back out to you. There was this report of there having been some sort of substance, like an orange substance that came up on the playing fields. Is that anything your kids have reported or you`ve seen?
SMITH: No. I asked my child specifically about that, and he said he hadn`t, but that he would definitely be on the lookout for it from now on.
PINSKY: That`s good. That`s actually a good thing.
So Adam, you know, we`re really interested in what`s going on on the ground there for people. Do you have a lot of new friends now? You`re a newcomer to the community. Is everyone staying relatively calm? Are they supporting one another? What`s the sort of the sentiment in the community at large?
I know you`re a little more nervous as a newcomer. Are everyone feeling the way you are?
SMITH: Well, I have limited experience with the people in town. Unfortunately, my job has me working a lot of hours. But it is a very close community. It`s a very small community, and it`s - I think a lot of people feel like we do. We`re cautiously waiting for answers, some information, and that`s what is really frustrating, and not getting any.
PINSKY: Well, Adam - well Adam, what if they were to say - and Jim, I`ll ask you the same question, is were the school were to say, you know, we`ve hired an independent organization to look into this, we`re doing it diligently, we`re going through the steps, would that be sufficient?
SPELLMAN: It would be a start, but we haven`t even heard that. I think those parents I`ve spoken with say an independent organization showed up, Bob Bowcock`s or Erin Brockovich`s organization, over the weekend, and they weren`t allowed to get what they needed. That set the tone, I think, for that - much higher standard for any independent, outside organization, that they will be watched very closely and be sure they had full access.
But I agree with Adam. That would be a big start to easing people in this community`s fears.
PINSKY: And instead, I guess, Jim, what you`ve encountered is attorneys hired by the school.
SPELLMAN: That`s right. Again, we can`t speak directly to the administrators of the school. They`ve hired a new attorney up in Rochester who runs everything, you know, by whoever he has to run it by, and ends up giving us occasionally these very sanitized, short statements. You can`t go back and ask the questions you want. You can`t get extra details. You get these kind of bland, PR spokesman statements.
It`s very unusual. I mean, the school administration building is literally just about a block that way. The school is just a few blocks that way. The people are right here. The school superintendent, Kim Cox, she must see us every day. Everyone in town does. They know they can come speak to us.
I`ve made it very clear to them, any time they want, 24/7, and we`ll clear anything up they want. But we have to go through e-mails with an attorney. It`s very difficult.
PINSKY: And Jim, I`d be interested if they`d let you talk to like some of the teachers or the school nurse. I mean, because we`re - I`m more interested in what the people are experiencing that are on - you know, living through this, not so much administrators and lawyers and stuff.
I really appreciate Adam coming in here and - and talking about it. I think, Adam, that`s about the way I would feel like, confused but want more information, and just keep everybody calm and focus on their studies, Adam. That`s the - that`s, I think, the important message here.
And I want to thank my panel, Dr. Sharp; Bob, we`ve got - we`ve got you coming back as well, and Dr. Sharp as well. Jim, Adam, again.
Next up, your questions and comments are next. And later, an unbelievable shocking story about a teacher who`s accused of heinous crimes involving young students, his students. Stay with us.
PINSKY: Welcome back.
We have been overwhelmed by all your Facebook and Twitter questions about what is going on in Upstate New York, and it`s a complicated and controversial issue. We want to help you to understand it.
So let me begin with a Facebook post. Pete writes - and Dr. Sharp of course join me here tonight - "Dr. Sharp, could you talk more about something you mentioned regarding mental illness following early childhood exposure to TCE." We actually said early childhood exposure to tetrachloroethylene, not trichloroethylene, which is a close relative, but go ahead.
SHARP: Well, it`s very similar compounds.
SHARP: And there are two studies that came out just last week, actually, by a group of epidemiologists and public health officials in Boston, showing that when you have early exposure, you can get more likely development of certain kinds of mental disturbances -
PINSKY: And I read the - the one article, it was quite a spectrum of mental disturbances.
SHARP: Wide spectrum and also risk taking behavior vulnerabilities. It`s really fascinating. It doesn`t mean that that`s going to happen, but it can make it more easy to develop into that.
PINSKY: Again, a reminder that the brain is a - is a delicate instrument and subtle changes in it can cause what seems like just that person`s behavior, but if you take it in total, it could be a spectrum of disorders, and things like conversion could be amongst those disorders, right?
SHARP: It often takes a dual hit, like you were saying before, to do that. So -
PINSKY: -- the predisposition and then some environmental -
SHARP: Predisposition and some active element. Right.
PINSKY: OK. Let`s take a call. Stacy in Pennsylvania, go ahead. Stacy?
STACY, PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA: Hi, Dr. Drew.
PINSKY: Hi, Stacy.
STACY: I`m just wondering why all the girls who are affected by this illness are generally around the same age.
PINSKY: They`re - first of all, we have a 30-something-year-old and we have girls from junior high school aged well through high school. And plus, Erin Brockovich says she has some young adults as well. So it`s a pretty strong spectrum.
I would say and I bet you would say that in these - if it is conversion, it tends to be people that are assimilator or that know each other, so it would be a group - a grouping, and high school grouping would be one of those groupings.
SHARP: Right, and the lingo conversion clusters, it tend to be people who know each other or who are in the same community, or whose heart goes out to one another, who can relate -
PINSKY: There you go.
SHARP: -- and that -
PINSKY: Same - they would know each other. That is - if it`s a conversion, which we think it is. It`s been diagnosed as such, but we`re watching.
Rosie tweets, "Dr. Sharp, Dr. Drew, do you think strep may not even be a factor?" This is a question about the PANDAS syndrome, or what used to be called Sydenham`s chorea or St. Vitus` Dance, which is strained movement that we used to see after rheumatic and scarlet fever. Now that strep has been so much treated with antibiotics, we don`t see that so much. We`re going to, I guess, find out when Dr. Trifiletti gets his results back.
SHARP: Yes. Could you draw your brain again, just so we can see where that happens?
PINSKY: Yes, I would, but I don`t have time to.
Let`s go to Bill, who writes, "Shouldn`t the teens` urine be tested for TCE?" I would say no. I wish Bob were here to answer that one, because what he told me was that it`s out so quickly in the urine, it`s in for like 48 hours, we`re not looking for chronic, ongoing exposure to TCE. We`re looking for a massive, acute exposure.
SHARP: A shared, common exposure. And that may have been even in utero. It could have been the mothers who got exposed to it.
PINSKY: A long time ago.
Cindy writes, "Dr. Sharp, why do some girls have worse tics than others?" We have 15 seconds.
SHARP: That`s how it is. Usually the first couple of people get it the worst and the rest kind of get a lesser extent.
PINSKY: All right. Thanks, Dr. Sharp, for being part of this "On Call" segment.
And before we go to break, I just want to thank those of you who participated in our Facebook chat earlier today. Hopefully I got most of your questions answered. There it is right there. We did a more long form discussion.
And, when we come back, we`re going to talk about an intimate and emotional conversation with parents and teens in Le Roy who are impacted by this medical mystery.
And later, an elementary school teacher behind bars, charged with some unbelievably disturbing crimes against children.
More information, head on over to HLNtv.com. Back after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY (voice-over): Coming up. Is this elementary school teacher public enemy number one? The Los Angeles man is behind bars, bail set at $23 million, charged with lewd acts against his own students. Some of the alleged crimes are so sick I cannot mention them on television.
Meet a grown woman who says she knew all about it when she was a young student and that no one responded to the children`s complaints.
But first, parents demand answers. Why are their children ticking and twitching? They`re not buying the medical diagnosis, so what is it they want?
LANA CLARK, DAUGHTER SUFFERING FROM "MEDICAL MYSTERY": I`m afraid of permanent damage, you know? I mean, and it is how long is this going to go on for.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY: HLN correspondent, Jim Spellman, recently sat down with families from Le Roy, New York, who`ve been impacted by this mystery. A mystery that surfaced in their hometown last fall when students began to suffer from uncontrollable tics and verbal outbursts. Let`s take a look at little more of Jim`s interview. Watch this.
LANA CLARK: Your heart just breaks, you know? It aches. I mean, this is your child. You don`t want something like this for your children or even anybody else`s children.
PINSKY: Lana Clark`s daughter, Lauren, is a sophomore at Le Roy high school, and she is one of the 16 known students at the school suffering from a medical mystery, uncontrollable tics and verbal outburst.
LAUREN CLARK, HAS "MEDICAL MYSTERY" SYMPTOMS: I wasn`t like ticking. I wasn`t like moving or anything, but like, I couldn`t like talk. But once I started like ticking everything, it just hurt bad.
PINSKY: Lauren`s mom says this medical mystery is frightening to her entire family.
LANA CLARK: She was scared. I was scared. She was upset. I mean, there were times that she broke down and started crying, and you know, although, being a parent, I have to be strong. I was ready to go cry, too.
PINSKY: Charlene`s daughter, Traci, a junior at Le Roy high school is also suffering from the same medical ailment. Charlene was equally baffled by her daughter`s Tourette-like symptoms and unsatisfied with the diagnosis she received from doctors.
CHARLENE LEUBNER, DAUGHTER HAS "MEDICAL MYSTERY" SYMPTOMS: What`s going on? Is this something contagious? What`s causing all of these girls at once to come down with the same sort of symptoms.
PINSKY: As for Traci, a junior who`s gone from the honor roll to failing grades, she just wants to get better.
TRACI LEUBNER, HAS "MEDICAL MYSTERY" SYMPTOMS: Like, I don`t want people to see me because everyone stares and says things they shouldn`t, and it just makes me want to cry.
PINSKY: And it`s not just the affected families who are suffering. Craig`s daughter attends Le Roy high school, and although she does not suffer from the medical mystery, he admits he worries all of the time.
CRAIG BOWER, WORRIED DAUGHTER MAY GET "MEDICAL MYSTERY": I worry every day she goes to school and everybody she comes home. I`m constantly monitoring her after a nap, gets up in the morning, I`m looking, is she OK? It is a hell of a way to live.
PINSKY: And while the children are desperate to get better.
LAUREN CLARK: I just want all of us to get better and just like I want all of this to stop. I want all of this pain to like go away.
PINSKY: The bottom line is that these patients want and deserve answers and would do anything to make their children`s pain go away.
CHARLENE LEUBNER: I mean, this is supposed to be the best time of their life.
BOWER: She said she wished she could switch places with Katie.
BETH MILLER, DAUGHTER HAS "MEDICAL MYSTERY" SYMPTOMS: I would in a heartbeat.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I would, too.
PINSKY: Joining me, Bob Bowcock, an associate of the famed environmental activist, Erin Brockovich. He was in Le Roy last week, attempting to conduct test and doing some water testing. Psychiatrist, John Sharp, he is on the faculty at Harvard Medical School and is the author of the book, "The Emotional Calendar. Jim Spellman, a correspondent with HLN.
Now, Jim, you`re the one who spent quite a bit of time with these families. What did you learn?
JIM SPELLMAN, HLN CORRESPONDENT: You know, you get to spend time with them not just during interviews, but you know, we had pizza together last night. We get to hang out a bit. And I tell you, I can`t help but sort of look at it through a father`s eyes, and I think of it with my own daughter, you know, what it would be like.
And I think, ultimately, what`s so frustrating is just the powerlessness. You want to be able to do something, to take some action, to give them some medicine, to get some information that will make this all stop as they`re going on months.
It`s rally wearing the families down, having to go through this, the physical and emotional tolls on the kids, and everyone around them. It`s just that sense of powerlessness that I`m left with whenever I get to spend time with them, Dr. Drew.
PINSKY: And all of us, and Bob, you know, you`re as aware of this as I am, that there`s a lot of unanswered questions there. We`ve raised a lot of issues. My question is to Dr. Sharp is, can we help these people with the sense of powerlessness?
DR. JOHN SHARP, PSYCHIATRIST, HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL: What`s empowering, Drew, is enlightenment, and that`s going to come from within. So, just like we have to address concerns, we also have to make the girls feel comfortable by just giving them time in a treating relationship so that they can become more enlightened, more aware. They have to get a chance to reveal to themselves --
PINSKY: What`s going on.
SHARP: -- what`s going on.
PINSKY: They need support. I think, Lauren is one that has not had - - we talked to her last night. She doesn`t have anybody. And Beth Miller`s daughter, Katie, attends Le Roy high school. Katie woke up from a nap last fall and her mom says their lives have never been the same. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BETH MILLER: September 9th, and she took a power nap over at her boyfriends, and we got a phone call saying that we think she`s having seizure-like activity. She`s awake, but her body is uncontrollably shaking. You know, I didn`t know what to think. I`m on the other end of the phone and scared to death.
She has a heart murmur, and I don`t know what you`re dealing with. So, you better call an ambulance for her. So, they strapped her down, which, if you know anything about tics, it makes them worse. So, when we got to the hospital to see her, I was ready to burst out crying. It was horrendous.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY: Now, Dr. Sharp, conversion can definitely develop after a nap. I`ve seen that happen. I know that`s not really classic, but it can happen.
SHARP: Comes on suddenly, though.
PINSKY: Comes on suddenly. What do we do for the parents? They`re the ones that feel probably helpless and powerless more than anybody.
SHARP: Which is terrible feeling because they, more than anything else, want to help their loved ones. So, psycho education, in other words, understanding more about --
PINSKY: We just call that addressing, answering questions.
SHARP: Addressing their concerns. Absolutely.
PINSKY: Addressing their concerns. That`s a good way of putting it.
SHARP: And making sure it that it`s clear that what -- for example, I`m talking about is an avenue of hope. It`s not a dead end. What you need is therapy, support --
PINSKY: No matter what causing this, support, support. Bob, you had the experience of going out there and trying to talk to the school and you felt stonewalled by them, and I know now we raised concerns about the possibility of the wells and the issue of the water.
Jim Spellman asked families about the school and whether they were helping or hindering the process. I want you to watch this, and I`ll have a question for you.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SPELLMAN: When you turned your attention to the school and trying to get answers from them, what kind of reaction did you get?
BETH MILLER: Stonewalled.
DON MILLER, DAUGHTER HAS "MEDICAL MYSTERY" SYMPTOMS: Yes. They stopped Erin Brockovich`s team from doing soil samples. Said that they didn`t know they were coming, which everybody knew they were coming, because they announced it on TV that they were coming this weekend.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY: And Bob, you and I have been the object of vituperation, shall we say, by the school district. What`s your response? What are we going to do? What did they or did they not know? What about the stonewalling? Where do we go from here? We got about a minute.
BOB BOWCOCK, CONDUCTING ENVIRONMENTAL TESTS IN LE ROY, NY: Well, I think what`s happened both with the school district and to the US EPA is, I think they`ve had time to collect their thoughts. They`ve already gone through the oh, my God situation, what have we done. And I think that they`re going to -- you know, I would hope that within the next couple of days, they come around.
I`ve asked, I`ve left messages with the school district repeatedly. We`d like as the representative of the families that are looking for answers to get a seat at the table. If they`re going to move forward and they want to come out with answers, we`d like a seat at the table to help, you know, disseminate information, to share ideas, to share science as I`ve talked about numerous times, that collaborative effort.
Likewise, I think EPA issuing a statement that they`ve issued today indicates that they, perhaps, are getting their arms around the situation. You know, it`s not a little too late. It`s time for us to start collaborating, start sharing information, and start getting it out to the affected people as soon as we possibly can. Information --
PINSKY: There you go. Thank you, sir. Thank you, Bob. Thank you, Jim, for that great reporting. Thank you, Dr. Sharp, as always.
A California elementary school teacher is behind bars tonight, thank God, accused of photographing his students in bondage. Wait until you hear what a former student has to say.
PINSKY: Now, welcome back. And I have a warning, what we are discussing in the next few minutes is graphic and I find it very -- everyone will find it disturbing. And if you have kids, please do send them out of the room.
A former Los Angeles elementary school teacher is in jail tonight, held on $23 million bond for felony abuse of at least 23 of his students. Mark Berndt is accused of gagging children, putting live cockroaches in some of their faces and worse. Watch this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED KID: He would blind fold us and tell us to pick a lollipop stick from a container. There was one picture of him that he was holding one cockroach in his hand.
SGT. DAN SCOTT, LOS ANGELES SHERIFF`S OFFICE, SPECIAL VICTIMS BUREAU: They didn`t realize they were being victimized. They thought they were just being blindfolded and gagged as a game.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
We are talking about seven to 10-year-old children. A neighbor who saw Berndt riding his bike one night with a young girl asked Berndt what the young girl was all about, who was she?
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He told me it was a student. He is telling me isn`t she beautiful. You know what? I was even thinking of calling the police, but I didn`t, because they would have really got him good. You can`t do that stuff.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
PINSKY: Tonight, we learned that Berndt was under investigation in the early 1990s, but the case was not pursued. Now, we don`t know the exact nature of that earlier case. Joining me, criminal defense attorney, and himself a father, Mark Eiglarsh. I also have clinical psychologist, Lisa Boesky.
First, I want to turn to Nadine Martinez Rodriguez who was in this teacher`s class years ago. How are you, Nadine? What did you see as a fourth grade student?
NADINE MARTINEZ RODRIGUEZ, FORMER STUDENT REPORTED TEACHER, IGNORED: What did I see?
PINSKY: I understand you had concerns, you had instincts that something wasn`t right even way back then.
RODRIGUEZ: Yes. I actually sat in front of his desk, so he had like a setup where it was like a square, and he had a desk where there was one desk only on his side. So, it was actually like incomplete square.
So, I sat right in front of him, and I would see him in his desk, moving, having hand movements, and we all knew he was masturbating. We even found Vaseline in his desk. So, we were all aware of what he was doing.
PINSKY: I`m going to interrupt you, Nadine. You were in fourth grade.
PINSKY: I mean, did you guys tell anybody? Were any parents notified, the school notified?
RODRIGUEZ: I told my mom. She didn`t go to the school at all, but there are three other girls who went to the principal and told on him, but they all concluded that they were lying.
PINSKY: Wow. Were there other things you thought was peculiar?
RODRIGUEZ: The only thing he did back then was the masturbation. There was nothing out of the ordinary other than that. I mean, when we were sitting down doing assignment, we couldn`t get up at all. We couldn`t get up to where he was at, because then we would see what he was doing.
PINSKY: Wow. Now, HLN cannot confirm what Nadine is reporting to us, but it seems consistent with what we`ve learned tonight. We also have a statement from Los Angeles County Sheriff Department which investigated allegations against Mark Berndt involving a September 1993 incident.
On February 23rd, 1994, the evidence presented to the district attorney`s office after careful evaluation, it was determined that the evidence was insufficient to prove a crime had occurred. All district attorneys in California follow uniform standards in filing criminal cases. A prosecution cannot ethically file criminal charges if the evidence fails to meet the standard proof beyond a reasonable doubt.
But Mark Eiglarsh, I mean, you have kids reporting outrageous behavior in the classroom. Shouldn`t they have done something with this?
MARK EIGLARSH, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Well, apparently they did. It`s not the outcome that we wanted, but we`ve learned that not all guilty people get punished. In fact, most walk. That`s the nature of our system, where maybe prosecutors believe passionately that something was going on.
They might have even come to the conclusion that he definitely 100 percent probably maybe was doing this. And as we`ve learned, that`s not beyond the exclusion of every reasonable doubt, and so, the outcome legally was right, factually, probably wasn`t.
PINSKY: But shouldn`t they have kept going? I mean -- or shouldn`t they have kept this coming from -- I mean, it seems so outrageous that it`s like oh, well, yes, kids will be kids, you know? Nine-year-olds, eight- year-olds don`t know about this stuff. Why didn`t they really diligently pursue this, the school at least, if not the legal system?
EIGLARSH: Hindsight is 20/20, and I`m sure now, knowing what they know about this creep and his abhorrent behavior, they wish they could turn the clock back. Back then, I have no reason to believe that they didn`t do a thorough examination, unless, someone tells me, otherwise. And they investigate it. They look into this.
And they just found that the evidence came up short. There wasn`t anything for criminal prosecution, and they, thus, legally couldn`t do anything. It`s really unfortunate.
PINSKY: And unfortunate -- Mark, once again as usual, I talk to you for a few seconds and I get GI distress. Most guilty people walk. Well done, Mr. defense attorney, well done. Just saying.
EIGLARSH: That`s the nature of our system. Our founding fathers came up with this system. If you want to go to Cuba where you`re guilty until proven innocent, I welcome you to consider that, but that`s not how we do - -
PINSKY: Thank you, Mark. I knew you would think of something nice to say to me.
All right. Will the district kept silent for 13 months as investigators built this case -- thank you, Mark, for the levity, because this case just has me -- I mean, beyond GI distress. Their investigation yielded a discarded spoon in Berndt`s classroom which tested positive for semen. Investigators say that without the spoon, he could likely only been charged with a misdemeanor.
Mark, though, my question is, they were investigating for 13 months. It looks like they kept a lot of the parents in the dark. Is that ethical? Forget that it was a practical consideration from a legal standpoint. Is that OK?
EIGLARSH: I have to believe that they did that to maintain the integrity of the investigation. The minute they tell parents things, those parents then could disseminate that information to the kids and that could obstruct the investigation, and somehow, interfere with it. So, I have to defer to investigators as to why they did that.
The only good thing about this, and I`m struggling to find something good, because this really does make my heart just hurt is that the kids thought it was a game at the time. That doesn`t negate his guilt, but it helps me get through this thinking that the kids didn`t know that they are being victimized.
And then secondly, that this guy was a bachelor. It didn`t have -- it never procreated, so he doesn`t have any of his own offspring that could harm and/or that will miss him for the next decades in prison.
PINSKY: Lisa, join in me this, as someone who cares not too much about the founding father`s intentions but more about people, sorry, Mark. But, is it not the case that even if the kids thought this was a game, this could be profoundly traumatizing?
LISA BOESKY, PH.D., CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: Well, the thing that concerns me, these are only the cases that we know about. Like, this 23 number, I think, is a joke. I think there are hundreds of kids. And predators like this, monsters like this, likely have a few favorites that they do a lot more than this game to.
So, I`m worried about those folks, too, and I hope they come forward. So, some of these kids, yes, they may not have known that it was semen, which just the thought of that makes me so sick, and that it may have though this is more like a fear factor thing.
They may not have been traumatized, but there may have been some because of their history that even having insect on their face or being blindfolded, because remember, the kids thought this guy was creepy. They knew something was wrong. And I have to say, and you know, maybe Mark is right about the legal system, but I think this is pathetic.
I think that the adults have failed these kids at every level, school officials, teachers, school counselors, and even parents, because we tell kids to speak out when something weird is going on, and they did, and nothing happened. And I`m not convinced that they did a good investigation.
I am not convinced of that, because the way they may have questioned those children may have gotten those kids to shut down, rather than open endingly ask about that teacher, ask about other teachers. So, those kids didn`t know what was being asked.
They may have gotten more information about this Vaseline jar by the desk, this creepy behavior in the classroom. I`m not convinced the investigation went as it should.
PINSKY: Well, let me ask the final question to Nadine. Nadine, did they fail you, your classmates, and the kids that followed?
RODRIGUEZ: Yes, they did, because after they talked to the principal, we all felt like we couldn`t say anything because no one will believe us. So, we just went on with him in class and thought it was the typical behavior of our teacher.
PINSKY: All my guests stay with us across the break.
Next, what do we do with the alleged victims of this teacher? What about the parents, too? So, stick around.
PINSKY: And tonight, an elementary school teacher behind bars, accused of sexually abusing at least 33 of his students, even photographing them in bondage. In fact, that`s how they found out about this. These pictures are being developed, and they realized what he was up to. Here is what the pictures of this teacher took showed.
His arm around the children or his hand over their mouth. Their children with eyes blindfolded. Their mouths covered with tape, and Madagascar type cockroaches on their faces, white liquid in spoons near the children`s mouths.
It`s just -- it`s just -- it takes your -- I don`t know. When people behave like this, I almost don`t even know what to do. Let me ask, Nadine, before I go to Lisa, I want to ask you a question. You now have children of your own. Did you ever think about speaking up about this guy over the years?
RODRIGUEZ: I did, but like I said, nothing was done back then. I didn`t think there was enough evidence to convict him. We didn`t have any proof.
PINSKY: Yes. You just thought people would continue not to listen to you. Lisa, obviously, this has tremendous effects on these kids. What should parents be saying, not only to the kids who were victimized, but all the other kids that may have been to this guy`s classroom?
BOESKY: Well, I think parents, this has been going on for so long, parents of kids who are 10, 20, 30 years old should say, hey, you were in this guy`s classroom. I mean, it`s all over the news in Los Angeles. So, everybody is hearing about it, and they should say, what do you remember about that.
Very open endedly, what do you remember? Were you affected by anything? If people are affected by it now, because think about it, this is going to trigger a response in some kids who didn`t think it was a big deal, and then, they now found out that they were being fed semen. This could really have an affect on a kid or grownup now that didn`t know what was happening then.
So, they may even want to see a professional just for a couple sessions if it`s impacting them now just to kind of process through this. For most people, I think they`re going to be really disgusted by it. But I think all parents who had kids in those classes should open up the conversation, ask if they noticed anything, and talk to them about it.
PINSKY: You know, we`ve been talking about conversion disorder in Le Roy, New York, and all these kids must be under stress that`s they`re twitching and ticking. How come some these kids aren`t twitching and ticking or their parents for that matter? Point is, these things are hard to differentiate. I`m still skeptical about conversion in some of these kids for this very reason.
Mark, do you think this -- the legal system will finally do its job here with this guy?
EIGLARSH: I do. I think that now you`ve got evidence that is proof beyond a reasonable doubt. You`ve got him in the photographs. You`re going to have, you know, 20 kids, 23 kids, many more also will come forward to say that creep made me do these things, and they`ve got him in the photograph to match. I think this is just a question of whether his attorney will be negotiating 20, 30 years as opposed to life.
PINSKY: And does anybody have any opinion, Mark or Lisa or Nadine, too, for that matter, why the school waited so long or how we feel about that? I understand they were doing investigation, but I`ve got grave concerns about what was happening in that 13 months.
EIGLARSH: I don`t disagree with you. I think that perhaps with what they had, they might have removed him to another area until they could flush all this out, especially with what they knew. So, I have concerns about that as well.
PINSKY: And Nadine, are you contacting -- go ahead.
BOESKY: I was just going to say, Drew, I think this is -- I think the other thing that we need to think about with this is this processor, this film processer is a hero, that he didn`t mind his own business. He stepped out and said something. And I think that`s message, too, is, I think, sometimes, we mind our own business too much.
PINSKY: Lisa, I got to jump in here. I`m running out of time, but I totally agree with you. If you or anyone knows about this, speak up.
Thanks for watching. See you next time.