His name was David Threinen.I was nine years old when I learned his name. My father was reading the Saskatoon Star Phoenix as he did every day when he suddenly looked deeply upset, threw the paper down on his plate, and left the table muttering: “That sick bastard.”
My father was not perfect, but he rarely swore in front of his children, and when he did it was in German so there would be a chance we would not understand. I knew even at that tender age that whatever he had seen had upset him in a way that I had never seen before, and so I picked the paper up and read the story about the man who had been arrested for the murder of four young children in our community.I remember the moment like it was yesterday, even though it was almost four decades ago and my father has now been dead for almost ten years. I won’t forget that moment or the weeks that came before it, weeks when my parents, farm folks who had moved to the city, questioned their decision as children my age began to disappear. I remember the conversations we had, the talks about staying away from strangers, the way I no longer could walk to school alone or even go to the local playground without one of them or one of my adult sisters. They closed a protective shield around me, terrified that the stranger preying on children in our city would somehow find his way to me.
And in the case of Threinen it was a stranger, the “stranger danger” we tell our kids about, but the reality is far darker as we have learned this week in Fort McMurray. It is not the stranger we do not know that we need to fear. It is the stranger in our midst.Yesterday the world of children, parents and our entire community was rocked with the revelation that a local education assistant has been charged with several counts relating to the creation and distribution of child pornography, as well as counts of sexual exploitation and assault. I learned the news while sitting at my desk in my office, and when I read his name I suddenly understood what it felt like to be sucker punched, because this was a person who has been in my child’s life for years.
He is no stranger to us, having taught in her schools and having been someone who knows her by name. Seeing his name associated with hideous charges made me feel a million different emotions at once: anger, fear, betrayal, sorrow.I could not stop the tears and I knew I had to do exactly two things. I needed to go home to the Intrepid Junior Blogger, and I needed to have a conversation with her that a parent hopes to never have with their child.
And so there we sat, me asking questions and her replying, with her puzzlement growing at each query. She liked him, she said, all the kids did. He had always seemed fine, fun in fact. No, he had never been inappropriate with her in any way, and why was I asking and what was this all about?When the word “pedophile” left my lips I could see it in her face. Shock, disappointment, disillusionment. She has had a tough year, this kid, seeing at least three adults she liked and respected fall in front of her. This last one, though, was perhaps the hardest.
I have had difficult conversations with my child, but last night we had one of the most difficult I have ever experienced or ever hope to have in my life. I suspect similar conversations occurred in hundreds of houses last night as parents much like me asked the same questions and revealed the same news to their children.It isn’t the strangers we need to fear, as the cases like the one that impacted my life as a child – and had lingering effects that have lasted for decades – are the rarity. It is the stranger in our midst, the ones with deep and dark hidden secrets that we need to fear. It is why we must have conversations with our children from a very young age, discussing with them appropriate and inappropriate interactions with adults and older kids, and ensuring that they understand that those who prey upon children may well be someone they know, and who knows them.
My thoughts today are with so many impacted by the revelation that will forever change our community. They are with the victims and their families, young lives altered forever by a pain I cannot imagine. They are with all the children who knew this individual, who trusted him and liked him and who now find their faith and trust irreparably broken. They are with his coworkers and colleagues, who now realize they had a stranger in their midst but that they worked with every single day. They are with parents all over this community who were reminded, in a very dark way, of the risk that exists for our children. They are with all of us right now; a community battered and bruised by the news of someone we thought we knew who it now appears was, in fact, a stranger to us all.Years after the morning newspaper incident I spoke to my father about Threinen. I asked him what happened on the prairies when he was growing up and something like this happened, or when it was learned that someone was preying upon children. My father, a gentle man who never spanked his children, who loved kittens and puppies, who was as soft as a tough country farmer could ever possibly be, said: “It’s funny how sometimes people just disappear, nobody knowing where they have gone but knowing for certain they are never coming back”, and I realized in that moment that at one point in time there was a form of justice meted out against those that harmed children that did not involve police or court rooms or jail cells. I didn’t understand it then, didn’t understand the helpless vulnerability you feel when it comes to your children or the rage that rises within you when you learn that they, or children like them, have been victimized by a predator.
I understood it last night as I laid in my bed, my mind filled with dark thoughts of rage and anger. I leave the justice in this case to the justice system, acknowledging that the accused is innocent until proven guilty and that it is not my role to be his judge or jury. And yet somehow last night, lying in the dark, I found myself echoing the words my father said almost forty years ago.“That sick bastard,” I whispered in the dark. “That sick bastard.”