Darlington School in Rome, Georgia is a prestigious school with a beautiful campus. But for a decade, it has been keeping an ugly secret. And now, the horrific mystery is out. Sexual abuse happened at the hands of a seemingly personable instructor.
The teacher is identified as Roger Stifflemire. One of the victims is New York psychotherapist Tim Lee who shared his ordeal with Channel 2 Investigative Reporter Nicole Carr. He was abused by Stifflemire when he was 14. He was first invited by his teacher to his campus apartment, along with other boys.
It was a relaxed, normal and fun visit the first time. Lee recalled: “I remember he laid out some freshly made cornbread, which is really good, and we were all hanging out and talking and laughing.
The initial visit was quickly followed by frequent ones, and the succeeding times became less “innocent” as there were cigarettes and porn galore already.
Lee shared: “ I think like that’s where his grooming behaviors started was with this, with this nudity that he was showing… I would just leave the apartment whenever I felt like I’d stayed long enough to satisfy him.”
There was a point when Lee stopped going to his teacher’s apartment, but suddenly he was brought into a meeting with school administrators about drug abuse. Stifflemire happened to be at the meeting, who terrifyingly told him after, ‘Do you see what happens when you stop coming to my apartment?’
In 1999, Lee mustered the courage to go back to Darlington and confront an administrator in his dorm at the time of the abuse. The administrator dismissed what he had to share as “hearsay.”
Lee asked the school for an investigation, after which he decided to go on with his life. What happened never left his mind, though. And in 2014, he wondered if he really was the only victim. He decided to urge the school to send a letter of inquiry to their alumni. It took the school three years to do that, and they outlined Lee’s claim in their letter.
Part of the letter read, “While these allegations do not include physical contact, they do describe an uncomfortable and inappropriate experience” for the student.
After the letter was circulated, more students came forward. One of the victims who came forward was Florida-based Chris Gaba who came to Atlanta to share his story. Gaba said of his former teacher and what he did to him: “He used his authority as a teacher and a dorm parent to obtain my trust. He then exploited that trust and sexually abused me.”
Gaba, Lee and other former students are suing Stifflemire and Darlington School. The lawsuit states that during his stint at Darlington, Stifflemire sexually abused students in his apartment, his car and off campus, including trips to Lake Jordan in Alabama. Each boy thought he was the only victim.
Stifflemire denied the allegations in court papers while refusing to grant any media interviews. Darlington School for its part is washing its hands and says Stifflemire was acting “outside the scope of his employment when any alleged sexual abuse happened.
Gaba also wishes that his story will compel lawmakers to strengthen the Hidden Predator Act, extending the statute of limitations for sexual assault victims and holding nonprofits and businesses accountable.