Betrayal - a trusted teacher takes advantage
Edgartown police believe a respected and well-liked Martha's Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) teacher who suddenly left the school in June used his position of trust and responsibility to take advantage of a vulnerable female student over a period of six months.
In a series of telephone conversations, Edgartown Police Sergeant Kenneth Johnson and lead investigator Detective Craig Edwards said that former high school music teacher Daniel Murphy methodically set out to initiate a physical relationship with a student who was 16 years old at the time.
The legal age of consent in Massachusetts is 16. The police have not sought charges against Mr. Murphy, 47, and he is not accused of committing a crime.
Unlike many states, Massachusetts does not currently have a law that makes it a crime for people in a position of trust, such as a teacher or coach, to misuse that trust for sexual purposes, Mr. Edwards said.
Mr. Johnson said police decided to discuss their investigation of Mr. Murphy's behavior, in the event that there are other students who were the objects of Mr. Murphy's advances. Police said that if there are other victims and they understand that their experiences are not unique, they may come forward. He said he hopes they will.
The police officers provided The Times with a description of their investigation and a copy of the official police report that details that investigation. They withheld the young woman's identity. The 11-page police report narrative is based in large part on an interview of the student, who is now undergoing counseling through Children's Cove, a nonprofit counseling and treatment center located in Barnstable, for young victims of sexual abuse.
Detective Edwards said the student's narrative is supported by text messaging exchanges with Mr. Murphy that police found on her telephone.
The narrative provides disturbing details of a relationship that began in December when Mr. Murphy, the honor student's advisor, began sending text messages to her on her cell phone. His advances became more intimate as his sexual advances persisted. It ended in June, when the young woman, upset and believing that she had been taken advantage of by her teacher, confided her story to her parents in a note.
The first public inkling of a police or a school investigation began when Mr. Murphy did not attend high school graduation ceremonies on June 8. His absence was surprising.
Mr. Murphy, a music teacher hired in July 1996, was popular among his students and until this June was the director of the highly acclaimed Minnesingers choral group.
At the time, police officials not directly involved with the case and parents with knowledge of school affairs told The Times that Mr. Murphy was being investigated for possible inappropriate behavior with a female student, but they provided no details. Martha's Vineyard school officials had little to say.
In a brief news report published in The Times on Thursday, June 12, school superintendent James Weiss said that Mr. Murphy had been placed on indefinite, paid administrative leave the Friday before graduation.
Mr. Weiss also confirmed that Mr. Murphy was the subject of an internal school investigation, but the superintendent declined to elaborate on the reasons.
"At this point it is a personnel matter, and that is all I can say," the superintendent said. Little else was said or reported publicly regarding Mr. Murphy.
Reached by telephone last Tuesday in Maine, where he was vacationing, Mr. Weiss said that Mr. Murphy "is no longer employed by the district."
Asked if Mr. Murphy was fired or asked to resign, Mr. Weiss said, "All I can say at this point is that he is no longer employed by the district."
By law, the school is required to notify the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education whenever it begins an investigation of a teacher. "And I've done that," Mr. Weiss said.
That notification was in the form of a letter to the education commission containing a general statement that described an investigation based on allegations of inappropriate behavior, Mr. Weiss explained.
He said the next step is a conversation with someone from the commission. He said that, should the education department conclude that Mr. Murphy's departure was linked to something inappropriate, they could take action that could include revoking his teaching license.
The Edgartown police investigation began on June 3, when the student and her parents went to the police to report the girl's ongoing relationship with Mr. Murphy.
According to the police report provided to The Times, in December, Mr. Murphy asked another student for the girl's cell phone number. He explained that she was upset, and he was concerned about her. He began text messaging the girl.
The parents learned of the text messages and became concerned, because Mr. Murphy had sent a text message to their daughter at 10 pm.
The parents reported the incident to the school guidance department. Guidance counselor Michael McCarthy informed Mr. Murphy of the complaint.
A couple of days later, Mr. Murphy visited the parents' house, apologized, and explained the messages in the context of his role as the student's peer advisor. He said the student had come to him with her problems. His visit and explanation went some distance toward allaying the parents' concerns.
"Unfortunately, the texting did continue," said Sergeant Johnson, who said the communication began to take on a more personal tone, that included some sexual content.
The parents were unaware that the texting was continuing, said Mr. Johnson. "They thought everything was taken care of, after the meeting with the school and Mr. Murphy, but it did continue."
In the police report provided to The Times, police substituted the word "child" for the name of the victim. By the end of February, according to the report, Mr. Murphy's text messages had turned sexual. "Child said she would delete the text immediately," according to the report.
In March, the school suspended Mr. Murphy for one week. According to Detective Edwards, on several occasions Mr. Murphy had relied on a student to take class attendance because he was late for class.
The week he was suspended, according to the report, the girl was in the music room with Mr. Murphy when he told her he had just been suspended and needed a hug. "She said he took her by surprise and reached over and started hugging her."
Mr. Murphy initiated physical contact with the student on several other occasions. Once, while doing so, he ran out when he heard another teacher approaching the music room.
According to the report, the girl said she would tell him to stop. "Child said, 'I would freak out on him.' She said that she told him that was not her morals and that he was married. Child said that she tried to stop it on many occasions, but he gradually broke her down. She said she eventually went along with it, because she was scared and embarrassed."
Mr. Murphy then arranged to meet his student in a private house the teacher was caretaking, according to the police report. The teacher and his student just talked the first time they met at this location, but future meetings arranged by Mr. Murphy led to sexual activity, police report.
The student became upset with the situation. "Child reported that she knew what they were doing was wrong. She said she didn't want to get involved like she had but they always ended up fighting, so she would give in."
The girl told Mr. Murphy she needed to speak to someone and asked him not to contact her any more. She then confided in her parents
When the parents contacted police, they provided the student's cell phone. Police said that when they reviewed the cell phone text messages, they found nine messages from Mr. Murphy's cell phone, sent on June 2, most just minutes apart, imploring her to call him, so they could talk.
Mr. Murphy also left a voice message on the student's cell phone, telling her he needed to speak to her.
On June 4, Detective Edwards and Sergeant Johnson went to the Edgartown home of Mr. Murphy and asked that he go back with them to the police station. He was advised that he was not under arrest, nor would he be arrested later.
According to the report, Mr. Murphy initially denied having any contact with the student. He later told police "he had texted child to assist her with her problems. He explained that he was child's peer advisor, and she would come to him with problems."
He initially denied meeting the student outside of school, according to police. Told that the student had described the house he caretakes, Mr. Murphy changed his story and said he had taken the child to the house, but said they had only talked.
According to the report, "Mr. Murphy was asked many times if he had a sexual relationship with child. He stated that he did not know how to answer that question. He stated that he had to find out how it would impact his job. Mr. Murphy asked if he could come back tomorrow, after speaking with an attorney, before answering if he had a sexual relationship with child."
Detective Edwards said Mr. Murphy returned a half an hour later and asked that police not tell his wife. He did not return with a lawyer. "I never heard from him again," said Detective Edwards.
Yesterday, in a telephone interview with The Times, the father of the young woman described his family's difficult ordeal. He said he was willing to discuss his family's experience because he believes it is important that other people in the community know that there is support for people who find themselves in similar situations.
The first reaction was anger, said the father, not at his daughter but at Mr. Murphy. But his and his wife's overriding concern was their daughter. "It was important that she be safe mentally and emotionally, so she could begin to heal," he said.
Unsure of their first step, the father called the rape hotline to ask about procedures. Faced with the question of whether to keep the matter private, the family ultimately decided to go to the police. "I called the Edgartown Police Department, because we decided that it was important for them to know and take care of it," he said. "The most important reason was that there were other people involved besides our daughter. It was important to protect the community too, because there were other kids in that school."
The father said another factor was Mr. Murphy's standing in the school and his relationship with many other children.
The father's call to the police put him on the phone with Detective Edwards. He was not sure what to expect. "I thought it would be more businesslike. Well, this is the procedure, come in, we will take your statement," the father said. "But they started the healing process from that point forward.
"They had us come in, told us what would happen, what wouldn't happen and made arrangements with Children's Cove. From the very beginning, they have been wonderful. Without them there is no way we would have gotten through it."
Initially, the father said he was afraid to come forward, because he wanted to protect his daughter. He said it is important that people know that there is compassionate and understanding support available for people who may be in a similar situation. "They are there to help and they do," he said.
What would he say to other parents faced with a similar set of circumstances? The father said he and his wife are very involved in their children's lives. He said it is important to keep a close watch on who your children associate with, what those people are like and pick up on any subtle personality changes.
"And question them, and don't be afraid that you are going to push them away," the father said. "You need to be a friend to your child, but you need to be a parent first. That is the only way we are going to protect our kids - if we know what they are doing." He said the fact that his daughter chose to come forward and confide in him and his wife speaks volumes about their family relationship.
The father said his daughter is making progress, but it is difficult. He said Mr. Murphy took advantage of his daughter mentally and emotionally for many months before the relationship became physical.
The father said the school system reacted quickly and supportively once they learned of the situation from the police. And, he said, the school counselors held an informal meeting with Mr. Murphy's core students to deal with any rumors and to shift the attention from his daughter.
The father said he was surprised to learn of the age of consent and that there is no law that could be applied to a situation involving a teacher almost 50 years old and his student. "There is no way that a child could consent to an adult for something that society in general knows is wrong," he said.
In a conversation with The Times last week, former Martha's Vineyard Regional High School principal Margaret "Peg" Regan praised the student and her parents for their bravery in coming forward. She said their willingness to speak to authorities put an end to behavior that was unacceptable. Ms. Regan retired in June, after announcing last September that the 2007-8 school year would be her last.
Ms. Regan described Mr. Murphy's behavior as an abuse of trust. "There is this very sacred trust between teachers and administrators and their students," said Ms. Regan, "and when it is breached it is a tragedy in a school. I think that is what the school is enduring now, and it is very disheartening."
Ms. Regan said that adults who work with young people, particularly those working in the teaching profession, have a responsibility to be upstanding and trustworthy. She said teachers and principals are often held to a higher standard for the very reason that they work with children. "In this case," she said, "there was a failure of that very important trust, and I can't explain it."
Ms. Regan said the family has been courageous. "I give them a lot of credit, because a lot of people would just duck and hide under these circumstances and keep it to themselves, and make it a private matter."
Referring to Mr. Murphy's responsibilities as director of the Minnesingers, she said his job allowed him to develop an unusually close relationship with the students. As group director, Mr. Murphy traveled with the students. This spring the choral group, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary, traveled to Austria.
"I do not believe this young woman bears any responsibility," said Ms. Regan. "I think she is a trusting, very loving young girl who was taken advantage of. I give her all the credit for coming forward and for being honest and being in touch with her own gut feelings that something was not right about this."
Ms. Regan said other young men and women in similar situations who come to the same conclusion are often overcome by shame and so keep quiet and say nothing. The retired administrator said she hopes the student's actions will encourage others to speak to people in authority, be they police or administrators.
"That is the good thing that came out of it," said Ms. Regan. "That somebody came forward, and whatever was going on is finished and done."
Telephone messages left for Mr. Murphy on his home telephone on Tuesday and Wednesday of last week were not returned.
Detective Edwards said anyone with information related to this or any other cases may call 508-627-4343, extension 14.