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WESTMINSTER — The executive director of Kurn Hattin Homes, in response to allegations of sexual and physical abuse that occurred decades ago, is urging the school's board of trustees to engage an independent external review.

"We plan to fully investigate these claims, and even though they allegedly happened 30 to 60 years ago, we vow to do all we can to uncover the truth, and if need be, help the survivors find the peace they seek and deserve," wrote Stephen Harrison, who has been at Kurn Hattin for the past five years.

An independent review is necessary because most of the alleged incidents occurred as much as 50 to 60 years ago, and it is difficult to ascertain what happened, especially since most of the Homes' leaders from that time are no longer alive.

Harrison wrote in a letter released at 7:20 p.m. on Friday that Kurn Hattin had not heard about these specific allegations until they had been asked by the Reformer for a comment.

"It was the first time we had heard specifics about allegations from these years, and we were given no time to respond," he wrote. "That was in no way indicative of us having nothing to say. We take these allegations extremely seriously. ... The thought that any of our children who came to us for refuge suffered abuse while in our care is both horrific and heartbreaking."

Harrison acknowledged abuse had been investigated at the school in the past.

"We were aware of a group from the 1980s because the abuser was identified, convicted, and incarcerated in 1991," he wrote. "We fully investigated the incidents at the time, felt confident we knew the full scope, and are working to put that sickening chapter behind us."

According to a statement released Thursday by the law firm Andrus Wagstaff and A Case for Women, they have documented dozens of cases from survivors who have come forward "with stories of physical and sexual abuse at the hands of teachers, administrators and others."

A Case for Women describes its mission as "informing women about the affordable legal options that are available if and when they've been hurt by one of the Big Bads — negligent pharmaceutical companies, financial institutions, product manufacturers or even companies or schools that 'look the other way' when women are assaulted." Andrus Wagstaff represented abuse survivors of Larry Nassar, a former USA Gymnastics national team doctor.

"Even though much of the alleged abuse happened over 40 years ago," wrote Harrison, "no matter when they come forward, survivors should be commended for their courage for doing so. And just like any child in our care, they deserve our support and to be heard."

Kurn Hattin Homes was founded in 1894 by Charles Albert Dickinson. The charitable home and school serves children ages 6 through 15 who have been affected by tragedy, social or economic hardship or disruption in family life.

"We have served children at the Kurn Hattin Homes for more than 125 years," wrote Harrison. "It is our mission to provide a safe and supportive haven for children with troubled lives. ... If any child suffered at the hands of someone at the Homes, I am profoundly sorry."

Bob Audette can be contacted at raudette@reformer.com.

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