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Years later, three watch as abuser is sentenced to prison

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Three men who were sexually abused by a church youth-ministry leader years ago experienced a measure of justice Wednesday as they confronted their abuser in court, read emotion-charged statements about how his crimes have damaged their lives, and heard a judge sentence him to 16 years in prison.

Jediah Tanguay, 33; Benjamin Tanguay, 31; and Roger Robbins, 30, were minors in the 1990s when Raymond Fernandez, then a longtime youth leader at Greater Grace World Outreach Church in East Baltimore, has admitted he molested them.

Fernandez, 50, of Nottingham in Baltimore County, pleaded guilty in May to three counts of child sexual abuse, one in relation to each victim. The Baltimore County state's attorney dropped six counts in exchange for his plea.

His conviction came after Jediah Tanguay engaged Fernandez in a telephone conversation last year, an exchange in which Fernandez admitted the sexual abuse as a Baltimore County police detective listened in, tape recorder running.

The defendant showed no emotion as Baltimore County Circuit Judge Jan M. Alexander announced his penalty: 30 years in prison with 14 suspended and a lifetime obligation to register as a sex offender. Fernandez will not be eligible for parole until 2024.

Just before his sentencing, Fernandez briefly apologized to the victims. "I take full responsibility," he said.

A red-eyed Jediah Tanguay later sounded like a man who had laid down a burden.

"It feels really peaceful — that's the only emotion I can really sort out for you right now," he said as his wife, Sarah, stood with him outside the courtroom.

County police have asked that any other victims come forward. Church officials, who have said they knew nothing of the abuse until it came to light last year, issued a statement Wednesday applauding the three men for their courage.

Jediah Tanguay's interaction with Fernandez began in 1987, when Fernandez was the assistant coach of the then 7-year-old's soccer team at Greater Grace Christian Academy, a K-12 private school affiliated with the church.

"He [later] told me he first 'noticed' me when I was seven," Tanguay said in his victim statement, relating how Fernandez "spent years" cultivating their friendship by giving him permission to attend exclusive events, inviting him to Fernandez's house to watch movies and taking him out for ice cream, often alone and usually unsupervised by other adults.

Tanguay's parents, Donald and Janet Tanguay — who belonged to Greater Grace in New England long before the church moved to Moravia Park Drive in Baltimore during the 1980s — said they had always trusted Fernandez.

"We thought you were investing in our kids. We didn't know you were scheming and conniving to end up with your victims alone. … You're a sick man," Janet Tanguay told Fernandez in her victim-impact statement.

Jediah Tanguay said Fernandez would single out some boys for special attention, inviting them to his house and taking them on trips.

"It was all done with such patience, structure and tact that it left me confused, believing the harm I felt was my own," he said in his statement. "It wasn't that Ray was so bad that made this all so difficult. It was that he was so good at making you feel so special … and most importantly, at getting what he wanted."

Tanguay cited "hundreds of occasions" when Fernandez slipped his hand under Tanguay's clothing, all the while pretending he was doing nothing out of the ordinary.

Fernandez pleaded guilty to one such incident. On a May evening in 1997, Fernandez parked with Jediah in front of the youth's home in Nottingham and engaged him in something like a father-son talk, according to a police report last year.

When he hugged the then 16-year-old, then slid his hand down the boy's pants, Jediah hit him and tried to flee the car, the police report said, but Fernandez sat on him and subdued him.

"For 20 years, I was convinced this was a good man with a big problem," Jediah Tanguay said.

It wasn't until last year that Jediah learned that Fernandez had also molested his brother during roughly the same period.

Benjamin Tanguay told a hushed court that when he was 11, in 1994, Fernandez began inviting him into the snack bar of a camp run by the church, promising him free candy, then closing the door and abusing him.

"I was always told never to take candy from strangers. Nobody ever told me not to take candy from a youth leader. Nobody told me I shouldn't take candy from you, Ray," he said.

"All alone, in that snack bar, I'd think, 'If somebody could open that door, they would see who you really were,'" he added as Fernandez sat expressionless a few feet away.

When his turn came, Robbins recalled that when he was in his early to mid teens, his mother was diagnosed with an illness that greatly stressed his family. He said Fernandez, his coach and mentor, used his grief as a pretext for offering comfort.

He described one time when Fernandez, offering hugs, went much further.

"He said we should pray. He started rubbing my back. He slid his hand down my pants. I felt so dirty," Robbins said.

In an interview, Jediah Tanguay said he and his wife had moved to Zambia in 2010 as missionaries for Greater Grace when he began to question his inexplicable bouts of sadness. He dove into a book he'd downloaded, "The Wounded Heart: Hope for Adult Victims of Childhood Sexual Abuse." The author "gave a name to everything I'd been feeling for years," he said.

After he and his family moved back to Baltimore last year, he got counseling. Last summer, he ran into Fernandez at a function on the Greater Grace campus.

Fernandez left his longtime position in the youth ministry in 2003, but continued teaching computer science at the school through 2004. At the church function last year, Tanguay confronted him. Fernandez admitted to molesting him, Tanguay said, claiming he had sought help in the years since and regretted his actions.

Within weeks, Tanguay agreed to make the surreptitious recording as the detective, a member of the county's Special Victims Unit, listened in.

The three victims all said they didn't realize until last year that Fernandez had preyed on anyone else. Once they compared notes, Benjamin Tanguay and Robbins decided to give their own statements to police.

During his summation, assistant state's attorney Keith Pion described the defendant's behavior as "shocking and disgusting." Judge Alexander called Fernandez a "callous, calculating, manipulative, destructive, non-caring individual."

As the hearing ended, the victims and their families flooded into a hallway, where they exchanged embraces.

Sarah Tanguay said she was proud of her husband. A police officer hugged Janet Tanguay, the victims' mother, in thanks for a victim statement she made.

Donald Tanguay, their father, said he wishes he had spoken to his children about sexual abuse before it was too late, but he never spotted the signs. He mentioned a nonprofit, Race Against Abuse of Children Everywhere, whose website, raace.org, helps parents find the words to talk to their kids about child sexual abuse, which it describes as an epidemic.

"Don't learn about this subject the way I did," he said, choking back tears.

jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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