North Coast Journal


The Accusers of Father Timmons

by Lisa Ladd-Wilson

On Jan. 18, the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office filed felony child molestation charges against the Rev. Gary Timmons, a priest once assigned to St. Bernard's Catholic Parish in Eureka, St. Joseph Parish in Fortuna, and the Newman Center in Arcata. The local case involves a juvenile currently living in Del Norte County. The molestation is alleged to have occurred in 1992, when the boy was 12 years old. Timmons, who faces eight years in prison if convicted of the local charge, was scheduled to be arraigned in Humboldt County on Jan. 30. District Attorney Terry Farmer anticipated his office would seek standard bail for Timmons -- $20,000.

At the time the local charges were filed, Timmons already was free on bail posted for numerous charges of child molestation in Sonoma County. Some of the charges against Timmons involve incidents alleged to have occurred more than 20 years ago at a camp for boys that he founded in 1963. Some of the charges stem from more recent events. If the allegations are true, Timmons has been sexually assaulting children for more than two decades, mostly the children of his church.

This is a children's story.

Once upon a time there was a 12-year-old boy whose father was a judge. The boy idolized his father and liked nothing better than to be with him, but his father worked hard and was very, very busy. So the boy was happy when a priest at his church started spending time with him, and he was very happy, too, when the priest invited the boy to summer camp.

At the summer camp, however, the priest did some things to the boy that made the boy feel bad. And when the priest invited the boy to go camping again, the boy didn't want to go.

But his parents thought the priest was a good man. They thought the camp was good for their son. So they told him to go with the priest.

On this camping trip, though, the boy put a pocketknife in his sleeping bag, and when the priest did things to him again the boy began praying: Please, God, if you exist, please do something, or I'm going to stab the priest. Please help me, God. Don't make me kill him.

That is Steve Gallagher's children's story. Twenty years later, as a man nearing his 32nd birthday, what worries him most is the thought that it is also a children's story for hundreds of other boys and young men. Their stories might not include pocketknives or fevered prayers to God or even parents who thought the best influence on a child's life came from the church -- but there is one thing Gallagher believes is constant: the face of Father Gary Timmons, the priest Gallagher alleges molested him at Camp St. Michael near Leggett two decades ago.

"Timmons really terrified me," Gallagher said last month as he sat in an Arcata office, intermittently staring out at the rain falling hard on his pickup truck loaded with wood. "He scared me as a child. And it was his demeanor: he always had that Cheshire Cat grin."

Gallagher is one of the men with whom the Roman Catholic Church has reached a financial settlement: $830,000 to be split, not evenly, among nine plaintiffs and their lawyers. It was a civil suit, a citizens' complaint that involved no criminal penalties.

Timmons wasn't party to the settlement. The church did offer an apology to the men, but it was unsigned and nonspecific in content.

That's why Gallagher came to Humboldt County. He and most of the men who have accused Timmons of molesting them during childhood have no case in the criminal justice system because the incidents took place more than six years ago. California extended the statute of limitations for child molestation in 1994, but appeals courts have ruled the law cannot be applied retroactively. The state Supreme Court is studying the issue.

Gallagher and others who say they were victimized by Timmons aren't going to wait for the Supreme Court's decision; they want the priest of Camp St. Michael to go to prison. So when Gallagher heard that Humboldt County District Attorney Terry Farmer was considering charges against Timmons for molesting a teenager here, he drove to Eureka.

"It's so important that I keep putting myself out there," Gallagher said. "'There are none so blind as those who choose not to see.' That's what we're dealing with here.

"I'm sick of talking about this. I would much rather that people pull their heads out of their asses and start doing what's right. But there's a lot of people who don't want to do that, so I need to do everything I can to make sure (Timmons) doesn't molest any more children.

"I already put myself through a tremendous amount of self-hate for not doing this a long time ago."

Self-hate, self-loathing, guilt. They are the reported legacy of those who accuse Timmons. As boys they say they were filled with shame; as men they say they are filled with guilt. Some of their parents say that, too.

Maureen LeForge was living in Ferndale in 1975 when her two sons returned from a trip to Camp St. Michael. She picked them up in Fortuna, and when they got home her oldest son, Jon, 13, told her that Timmons had done things to him.

She called Timmons that day, (she said in a telephone interview from her home in Coarsegold near Fresno), and she also talked to one of the leaders in the camp. She identifies that man as Bob Bailey, who teaches theology and math at St. Bernard's High School in Eureka. Both men denied anything had happened to her son. Maureen LeForge said Bailey told her that her son must have been dreaming.

(Bailey has been named in at least one lawsuit involving Timmons and Camp St. Michael. Maja Ramsey of Ramsey & Durrell, a law firm in San Francisco, said Bailey is a codefendant in a Timmons-related case she is handling. Ramsey said Bailey is named both because of his leadership positions at Camp St. Michael and because he allegedly was informed of molestation accusations against Timmons and did not act on them.

(Bailey was contacted for this story but said pending litigation prevented him from discussing any accusations against him. Jeff Jacobs, principal of St. Bernard's High School, did not return the Journal's phone calls.)

The LeForge family left the church and eventually left Ferndale. Now, Maureen LeForge says she is sorry she didn't do more. She wanted to protect her own sons, she says, breaking down in tears for others' sons she has since met.

Steve Gallagher was born in March 1964 in Santa Rosa. His family was devout Roman Catholic. His father, John, joined the Sonoma County District Attorney's Office when Steve was 2; by the time Steve turned 6, his father was assistant district attorney, second in command at his office. When Steve was 12, his father was elected judge.

That was 1976. Steve was attending St. Eugene's Catholic school. The priest assigned to St. Eugene's Church was Father Gary Timmons.

"This guy was showing me attention, you know, being a really nice guy," Gallagher said. "And my father Š that was in the days of the strong work ethic, you know, 'Dad busted his ass 24 hours a day and let Mom raise the kids,' you know what I mean?

"And I didn't get to spend a whole lot of time with my dad. The big thrill when I was a little kid was hanging out with my dad Saturday and Sunday mornings."

That summer, Timmons invited the boy to Camp St. Michael in Mendocino County.

The forest camp, according to several who attended it, had few buildings -- showers, a dining area, a few cabins. Most of the activities, including sleeping, were held outdoors. Boys would break up into groups of six to eight, each group led by at least one older boy, or "counselor." At night the groups made separate campfires in the woods.

"Timmons was very popular with (the kids)," said Don Hoard Sr., whose son, Don Jr., was involved in the same civil suit as Gallagher. "He would come and dismiss the counselors from an individual group and send them back to the main area."

Timmons then had the boys to himself, Hoard said.

Some accuse Timmons of molesting them after "back rub contests," where the "winner" received a back rub from Timmons himself. Others allege the priest fondled them as they tried to sleep.

"We were all jazzed because Father Gary was going to spend the night (in our camp)," said Jon LeForge, who later attended College of the Redwoods and now lives in Fresno. He was only 13, and he respected Timmons as he would any priest of the church, but he knew what happened to him was wrong. And as soon as he was able to get away that night, he ran from his campfire to find Bob Bailey, he said.

But that night Bailey insisted the boy was wrong, and the next morning he hadn't changed his mind. Timmons met with them both, and to LeForge's surprise the priest started crying.

"(Timmons) said he must have been dreaming, that he'd never hurt me," LeForge said, and Bailey told the boy he was the one having a dream. LeForge remembers that he himself began crying, too, and said he wanted to go home.

"They said that wasn't possible. They wouldn't let me call my mother, either. I had to stay there another day and a half," he said. The 13-year-old boy worried so much over that time, he said, that he occasionally wondered if he'd be killed before he left.

Gallagher said he didn't have enough self-esteem to react as Jon LeForge did. Timmons wasn't only a man of God, to Gallagher he was also a father-figure.

"I knew this was wrong," Gallagher said of the first molestation he alleges took place, but at the time he "just lay there. I was scared, I was absolutely terrified. I just lay there looking up at the stars, like, 'Why is this happening?'

"Eventually (Timmons) stopped. Then I just tried to stay away from him."

Gallagher went to Camp St. Michael five times, he said, and he claims he was molested the first two. At the age of 12, his whole life had changed in a terrible way.

"I remember my mom taking a picture of me the first year I went to camp, and I'm all happy and I've got all my crap," Gallagher said as the rain continued to fall. "And I come back and I remember sitting down on this log outside the Greyhound Bus station and starting to cry. My mom said, 'How was camp?,' and I just started to cry.

"And I'm, like, trying to smile so that she can take my picture, and she took my picture."

Gallagher talks about his life in a sort of Holden Caulfield manner: He is matter-of-fact, talks in long sentences and peppers his story with mostly mild invectives. There is, however, the occasional full-force expletive.

"My whole life everybody thought I was going to be, like, the president of the United States," he said. "Not literally, but everybody was like, 'You're going to be a judge like your dad who's the best guy on the planet, aren't you?'"

Gallagher relates his story about the second molestation, when he prayed to God and held tightly to his pocketknife, and says one of the reasons he was thankful he didn't stab Timmons was because of his dad's position in the community.

Glenn Sullivan's father was a police officer when Glenn went to Camp St. Michael in 1974. He didn't know Timmons -- the Sullivan family attended St. Francis Church in Sonoma -- but once he got to the camp he saw that "Timmons was like God up there." Sullivan accuses Timmons of molesting him numerous times over the next four years, including once at the Newman Center in Arcata and again on a trip to Salt Lake City.

(Dave Parris, a Eureka Police Department detective, said that he received a package of information from the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department detailing the incident at the Newman Center. Parris said he gave the material to Humboldt State University's campus police, who have jurisdiction over the investigation. HSU's Sgt. Ray Fagot said he received the packet the first of December but had not taken any action because of uncertainty over the location of the Newman Center in 1975-76. Although that issue was unresolved, Fagot said, he forwarded the case to the District Attorney's Office on Jan. 23.)

Sullivan is now married and has three small children. It is for their sake, and the sake of everyone else's children, that he said he is coming forward now -- even though he knew it would be painful. He knew, because he was at Camp St. Michael when Steve Gallagher came forward in 1983, publicly accusing Timmons of molesting him and others at the camp.

Sullivan and Gallagher were both counselors at the time, in charge of their own group of younger campers.

"I had a group of kids and they were doing something maybe 10-15 feet behind me, and I overheard them talking about Gary Timmons molesting someone that week," Gallagher said. "I started to turn around (and) they said, 'Be quiet! Steve won't believe us, and we'll get in trouble.'"

Gallagher said he immediately confronted both Timmons and Bob Bailey, and the three of them ended up in one of the camp's cabins with a group of counselors present.

"I was really afraid. I didn't know what to do," Gallagher said. "So anyways, we had this confrontation, and I told them what had happened to me, I told them what the kids had said, and I told them we should call the police, that Timmons shouldn't be here with kids.

"And what (Timmons) said was, 'I've been accused of this twice before. As far as Steve goes, I don't remember.'"

There was no denial or admission, according to Gallagher, and he said he looked to Bailey as camp leader to act. Gallagher claims Bailey's response was essentially that, for the good of the camp, the matter should be dropped.

"I had complete faith and trust that Bob Bailey would immediately call the police and do something," Gallagher said. "He was the camp director. It's his job to protect these kids in any situation: If there's a fire, food poisoning, a bear comes into camp, Gary Timmons is a child molester -- I mean, it's his job to take care of it."

While that confrontation took place, Glenn Sullivan was elsewhere, making camp outside the main area -- but after the meeting two counselors approached Sullivan.

"They said, 'Did you hear what Steve did?'" Sullivan reported in a telephone interview from his home in Sonoma.

The counselors told Sullivan what happened, and when Sullivan returned to the main camp, he reported, "Steve was being treated kind of lousy." Several counselors told Sullivan that Bailey had warned Gallagher that his accusations would "ruin" the camp. In the wake of the hostility being shown toward Gallagher, Sullivan said he decided to keep his own experiences quiet.

Sullivan did, however, ask Bailey what all the commotion was about, he said: "(Bailey) basically told me that there were some false accusations brought up against Father Timmons."

Ever since the first molestation, Gallagher said, "I knew I should go to the police. If anybody got a dose of what justice and responsibility and duty are, it was certainly me. So I had an incredible amount of shame and self-loathing because I didn't have the courage and moral integrity" to turn Timmons in. "All I wanted to do was crawl under a rock."

He found that rock in alcohol and drugs. He searched out chemicals that "mellowed" him out and drank himself into unconsciousness "every chance I got."

His relationship with his parents deteriorated. He lived for awhile with "a bunch of party guys" but then began living on the street. He engaged in petty thievery.

"I didn't get busted very much. I had a lot of cops trying to cover my ass, because they respected my father tremendously," he said. "I was homeless in my own hometown for two years."

Finally, in 1987 he accepted his parents' offer to put him into a rehabilitation clinic in Petaluma. It was there that he met James Johnson, and one night when they were discussing painful secrets they both named a priest called Gary Timmons.

Gallagher took his story to the Santa Rosa Police Department in 1990.
"They said, 'Well, you're too old, and you should do a civil suit as a means of getting this (story) out,'" he said.

But he didn't feel emotionally capable of doing that until four years later, when he and James Johnson took their stories to the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, which published them in February 1994. Dan Noyes, a news reporter for KGO-TV in San Francisco, began working on an investigative series about the allegations against Timmons, and the night before it was set to air Gary Timmons was arrested in Chicago.

Many of those who accuse Timmons -- Gallagher, Don Hoard Jr. and his family, Sullivan, James Johnson -- meet regularly. They want Timmons to go to prison. They have traveled to every parish in Northern California passing out informational brochures with a phone number -- (707) 522-9295 -- for anyone who might know of, or be, a victim, too.

The brochure is titled, "Truth Never Dies," and includes a quote from the Bible, Book of Mark 9:42: "Whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better that a millstone were hanged around his neck and he were cast into the sea."

When Jon LeForge and Steve Gallagher and Glenn Sullivan tell their stories, the most painful moment is always the same -- informing their parents what had happened to them under the guise of God and church.
"It was like kicking someone in the stomach," said LeForge about telling his mother. "I saw all the air go out of her."

"I felt like I was destroying their religious beliefs by letting them know a priest had done this," Gallagher said. His parents wanted to call the police, he remembered, "But I begged them not to. I told them if they said anything I'd kill myself."

At least one of Timmons' alleged victims did try to kill himself, according to the KGO series: Ben Smith, who claims Timmons assaulted him in a van, attempted suicide and was placed in a mental institution. His mother blames herself for pushing him into church activities, and reports that her son refuses to speak to her. She said she told Bishop Patrick Ziemann of the Santa Rosa Diocese that Timmons had destroyed her family.

Smith's case falls just outside the six-year statute of limitations, but the clock stops ticking if the suspect travels out of state: Timmons did spend time in New Mexico after he left Eureka, and he was living in Chicago just before his arrest.

Another boy, Mario M., 19, has stepped forward within the deadline, too. Barry McBride, deputy district attorney in Sonoma County, has confirmed those charges.

And now, of course, there is the Humboldt County charge.

Timmons' older accusers are both relieved and saddened as more younger accusers speak up, and they are sure there are many more. Eureka Detective Parris confirmed a report that another Eureka teenager alleges an assault by Timmons, but the family does not wish to pursue the case and has communicated only through a lawyer.

When Timmons is arraigned Jan. 30 in Eureka, Don Hoard Sr., Glenn Sullivan and others plan to be there. Steve Gallagher probably will be there, too.
He has a part-time job in Berkeley and has mended his relationship with his parents. He regained his lost belief in God but will not return to the Catholic Church. His persistent crusade to keep Timmons from hurting more children has earned him a few enemies.

"They ask, How dare we attack the Catholic Church? But all the Roman Catholic Church is is a body of people. It's not God," he said. "I'm not attacking God."

Gallagher was ejected from the campus of St. Bernard High School when he was here last month, passing out leaflets about Timmons to Eureka students. He tried to talk to local law enforcement authorities. He knows he makes a nuisance of himself, but that's the point, he says.

For many years he tried to stop Timmons, Gallagher said, but nobody did anything. He has learned that others tried, too, and again nobody did anything. So Gallagher is unimpressed by those who today might say, "Hey, leave us alone and let us do our jobs. We'll take care of Timmons now."

Like others who accuse the priest, Gallagher feels responsible for every child who came after him. They are his burden, and he doesn't want to add more names to it.

"I was such a nut case. I was," he said in Arcata as it continued to rain. "I don't think this will ever be completely 100 percent out of my life.

"But I've come a long way already. I've slept in abandoned buildings, I've come out of a drunk stupor in the mud in an alley. I've been Dumpster-diving for food. I've been hitchiking through Oregon and somebody throws a sandwich out at me that splatters all over the ground, and I pick it up and wipe off the gravel and eat it.

"That's where I've been to. So, you know, it's gotten better."

The Rev. Gary Timmons was stationed in Humboldt County more than once in his nearly 30-year career as a priest. The following chronology was provided by the law firm of Casper, Meadows & Schwartz in Walnut Creek, which represented some of the men in the recently settled civil suit.

1963 Timmons founded Camp St. Michael while still in the seminary
1967 Ordained as a priest
1967-68 Parish priest, St. Joseph Parish of Fortuna
1968-76 Chaplain, Newman Center, Humboldt State University
1976-81 Director, religious education and youth ministry, Diocese of Santa Rosa
1981-90 Founded St. Elizabeth Seton, Rohnert Park
1989 Retired as director of Camp St. Michael
1990-94 Parish priest, St. Bernard's Parish of Eureka; dean, St. Bernard's Elementary School
Jan. 1994 Left St. Bernard's Parish; reportedly sent to a church-sponsored rehabilitation facility in Jemez Springs, N.M., known to treat pedophilia
Oct. 1995 Arrested in Chicago


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