For eight months, one question ran through our minds -- How?
The Freeh report findings indicated Joe Paterno knew more about the 1998 incident than he told investigators.
How could Jerry Sandusky have been allowed to prey on his victims for so long, after so many red flags had been raised? How could this monster have operated right under our noses in a small town and on a campus that had always prided itself on its way of living, on its insistence of doing things the right way?
Then Louis Freeh released the findings of his extensive investigation Thursday, and we had our answer.
"After giving it more thought and talking it over with Joe yesterday -- I am uncomfortable with what we agreed were the next steps. I am having trouble with going to everyone; but the person involved. I think I would be more comfortable meeting with the person and tell him about the information we received. I would plan to tell him we were aware of the first situation. I would indicate we feel there is a problem and we want to assist the individual to get professional help." -- Tim Curley
"Tim: This approach is acceptable to me. It requires you to go a step further and means that your conversation will be all the more difficult, but I admire your willingness to do that and I am supportive. The only downside for us is if the message isn't heard and acted upon, then we become vulnerable for not having reported it. But that can be assessed down the road." -- Graham Spanier
"Tim and Graham, this is a more humane and upfront way to handle this. I can support this approach, with the understanding that we will inform his organization, with or without his cooperation (I think that's what Tim proposed). We can play it by ear to decide about the other organization." -- Gary Schultz
These are excerpts from email exchanges between three of Penn State's highest-ranking officials in February of 2001, after assistant football coach Mike McQueary had informed Joe Paterno, who in turn told Curley and Schultz, of a sexual assault in the Lasch Building shower. This was three years after Schultz, Spanier and Curley had been notified of an investigation that Sandusky had showered with an 11-year-old boy in the Lasch Building.
The "next steps" Curley referred to, according to the emails, were what the three men had previously agreed to -- informing the chair of the board of the Second Mile organization, informing the Department of Public Welfare and, finally, telling Sandusky that he would no longer be permitted to bring children alone into the Lasch Building.
None of these four men, of course, had the benefit of hindsight. They could not have known then what the eventual scope and breadth of Sandusky's reign of terror would be. But the tone and content of the emails strongly suggests that they suspected something was very wrong. Why else would Curley have said "we feel there is a problem" and expressed a desire to "assist the individual to get professional help?" Why else would Schultz use the phrase "Pandora's box" in his handwritten notes? Why would they bar Sandusky from bringing "guests" to the Lasch Building if they did not believe he had acted inappropriately?
Look at the priorities that come across in the emails. Curley's hope is that Sandusky can receive "professional help." Spanier's concern is that the officials might "become vulnerable" if the "message" wasn't "heard and acted upon." Schultz wants to make sure the Second Mile is notified but doesn't seem as motivated to alert the department of welfare, saying they can "play it by ear."
At no point during any of these exchanges does anyone mention the possible victims.
They weren't talking about getting Sandusky help for a gambling addiction or an alcohol problem. They were talking about contact with children that was inappropriate at best and unspeakable at worst. Two separate incidents, nearly three years apart, both involving a man in his fifties and a young boy alone with him in a shower.
This is how a child molester can operate right under everyone's nose -- when those in charge are presented with a slice of his behavior (not the whole picture, mind you, but a slice) and they hem and haw not about assisting his potential victims but about the most "comfortable" way to deal with the molester himself.
Freeh's report, as many have pointed out, is not comprehensive. It is, as Jay Paterno said Thursday, a piece of the puzzle. But it is a fair and detailed piece that held the light up to an alarming number of structural cracks in the university -- unclear policies involving non-student minors, ineffective background checks of those in positions of authority, a persistent disconnect between the athletic department, Old Main, and the board of trustees.
Mostly, it showed what we had feared from the beginning -- that the men who were in a position to stop Sandusky got a peek into Pandora's box and made minimal effort to seal the door. That includes Paterno, who told a grand jury he did not have knowledge of the 1998 incident but, as Curley's emails revealed, seemed very curious about it at the time.
Was Paterno the one who changed the plan three years later, altering the "next steps" by conversing with Curley, or did he merely sit by and hope the other three men would handle the situation? If you believe the former is true, that means Paterno was the key player in a coverup. If you believe the latter, it means a man who exercised full control over every aspect of his program for nearly five decades let someone else take the wheel.
Many Penn State fans are wrestling with which scenario they want to believe, and waiting for more pieces of the puzzle to fall into place before they decide either way. But no matter how you assemble the puzzle, whether the majority of the pieces are shaped like Paterno or Curley or Spanier or Schultz, the picture it forms will remain the same.
It's the image of a monster, roaming free.