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Ex-student airs decades-old accusations

A Wilkes-Barre woman says she was molested by her Old Forge High School teacher.

OLD FORGE - A Wilkes-Barre woman demanded Wednesday that the Old Forge School District investigate a long-time teacher, saying she was molested by him when she was a student.

Laurie Bullaro-Strunk, 38, of Old River Road, targeted high school teacher John Talerico of Old Forge during a School Board meeting.

"Do your job and get the man out of here," she said.

Talerico did not attend the meeting. Reached at home by phone afterward, he said, "I vehemently deny" Bullaro-Strunk's accusations.

"I have 32 years there and my reputation is as sound as a dollar."

The School District solicitor also said the School Board considers the accusations "unfounded."

Bullaro-Strunk addressed the School Board during its public participation session. Bullaro-Strunk said she realized in October 2002 that she had been molested more than two decades ago and said she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

State law says that someone who is four or more years older may not have indecent contact with someone who is less than 16 years old, unless they are married.

"I was the one who staged the demonstration outside," Bullaro-Strunk said from a podium. She and several friends had picketed before the meeting. "The purpose of it was that I attended school here, I graduated here, and I was molested by a teacher here.

"John Talerico was my molester."

Several audience members gasped and Solicitor Joseph Mariotti interrupted Bullaro. He told her that she could not speak about a specific teacher during the meeting.

Bullaro-Strunk continued, saying she asked the Lackawanna County District Attorney's Office to investigate her claims in December 2002.

Mariotti interrupted Bullaro-Strunk again.

"This is not appropriate for the meeting," he said.

"OK, how about this, what I am asking the School District to do is conduct an independent investigation of this man," Bullaro-Strunk said.

Mariotti said he thought Bullaro-Strunk had already asked the School District for an investigation.

"But no action was taken," she said.

Mariotti said, "Well, unfortunately this district has taken..."

Bullaro-Strunk interrupted to say, "Isn't it the responsibility of the school to protect the children? What about the other children. Why is he still teaching?"

Superintendent Gene Camoni told Bullaro-Strunk that she had been informed of "the rules" before the meeting and asked police to escort her out of the meeting.

"You staged this whole thing for your own benefit," Camoni said.

"It's not my benefit. It's the benefit of the children of Old Forge," she yelled. "I went to that man for help and he abused me and there's others that will follow."

Mariotti acknowledged that Bullaro-Strunk had requested an investigation previously.

"Dr. Camoni has handled it appropriately as far as the district is concerned and that's really as far as we can go," Mariotti said. "You're making what we consider to be unfounded accusations against both the district and the staff of the district and that's really all we have to say about it and this discussion has to end right now."

"OK, as long as the public is aware that there's a child molester working here. That's my point," she said.

As she was leaving, Bullaro-Strunk opened a large photograph of herself as a teenager with Talerico and showed it to the School Board. Talerico is obese in the photo.

"Just so you know, this is what he looked like then," she said as the crowd gasped again. "It's not what he looks like now. That's why I'm traumatized. That's why I didn't remember until now."

She said as she was leaving the room, escorted by four police officers, that the law would be changed and Talerico would go to jail. She started to cry and said to an audience member, "I should've went to you, the guidance counselor, instead of him, cuz you would have helped me. He didn't."

Before the meeting, Bullaro-Strunk picketed outside with several friends carrying signs saying "Amend the law," "A child molester works here" and "Investigation, legislation, compensation."

Lackawanna County District Attorney's Office Chief County Detective Tom Dubas said Monday that his office conducted an investigation into Talerico and Bullaro-Strunk's relationship but could not pursue charges because she made her claim too late. The statute of limitations in Pennsylvania for sexual violence cases is 12 years from the date of the offense for an adult and 12 years from a child's 18th birthday, according to the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.

The picketing drew interest from several bystanders. Four Old Forge police officers stood outside the school during the picketing. Sgt. Larry Simenza said the School District requested a police presence because they were aware that the picketing would take place.

After the meeting, Bullaro-Strunk said she will seek more publicity about her cause and lobby legislators to eliminate the statute of limitations.

Jean LaCoe, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 829-7155.

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