A Bethel sexual-abuse case involving a former foster father has roots that stretch back nearly 40 years to the time he was molesting his own stepdaughters, one of them said this week in a startling and disturbing account.
Kimberley Bruesch is now 48 and lives in Ketchikan, where she describes herself as a healthy, married stay-at-home mom with a young son and three grown children. But she was tormented for years, as were her sisters, she said.
Her stepfather is Peter Tony, 69, who was indicted last week on seven counts of child sexual abuse for, police say, repeatedly molesting a 4-year-old girl whom his wife baby-sat until August 2012.
Bruesch said Friday that when she was 8 years old and the family was living in San Diego, Tony would creep into her bed and fondle her. It took years for her to realize that he abused her two sisters, too, and she suspects that foster children were also victims. When confronted by Bethel police this month, Tony admitted that he sexually assaulted foster children, but said he didn't know why he did it.
Both sisters are long dead from suicide, the older one by gunshot in 1990, the younger by an overdose of pain killers and anti-depressants in 1998, Bruesch said. Both had young children.
In August, when making her annual visit home to Bethel to visit her mother, Marilyn, she found her younger sister's suicide note. In part, her sister, then age 30 and known as Teresa Richardson, blamed their stepfather. Teresa wrote: "I just told (my daughter) what my dad did to me. She'll know now why I did what I did."
Bruesch shared the note with their brother, Doug, who told her something needed to be done. There might be other victims, he said. That was the catalyst, she said Friday.
She and Teresa had reported the abuse to state child protection authorities in Bethel back in 1982 but nothing ever happened, she said.
Maybe now she could get justice for her wounded sisters.
Bruesch is telling her story for a multitude of reasons, including to encourage others who may have been abused by Tony to come forward and to spare the 4-year-old from shouldering the burden alone. She wants to put attention on the problem.
"I don't feel any shame about being a victim. I feel like 'shame on him,' " Bruesch said.
And she wants to honor her sister, Teresa.
She doesn't hate her stepfather and she's disturbed by Facebook postings in which people call him a monster. She doesn't know what went wrong inside him. The real breakdown is the lack of action by the state, which put other children in danger, she said.
"They have failed so miserably. I tend to hold them more accountable than Peter," Bruesch said.
The family, then the Joneses, migrated to Anchorage in the 1960s after the three girls were born. Their father dreamed of living in Alaska. But soon their parents split up and in 1970 Marilyn married Peter Tony. He is from Marshall north of Bethel. They met in Anchorage when he was in the Navy and on leave for a brother's funeral, Bruesch said.
"We children liked him and immediately called him 'Daddy,' " she wrote in a long narrative that, combined with telephone interviews on Friday, told her story.
He was stationed in San Diego in the 1970s with the family when he slipped into her bed at night and fondled her. She could smell the alcohol on him.
"We never talked about it," Bruesch wrote. "Even when I would wake up, I would pretend to be asleep."
The abuse lasted about a year, she said. It wasn't violent and years passed before she realized the betrayal and damage to her self-worth. She developed nervous habits, including picking at her lips, nose and scalp until they bled and scabbed over.
She didn't know her little sister would soon experience the same thing. Her older sister, Robin, never talked to her about the abuse, but confided in a friend. The friend later wondered if it contributed to Robin's suicide, Bruesch said.
In 1977, the family moved to Bethel. She and Robin were high achievers, placed in gifted programs, she said. But she began to rebel against her stepfather. She dropped out in 10th grade and settled for her GED. All three young women were dropouts who landed in dysfunctional marriages.
At age 15, she was in trouble over something and tossed out that Tony had molested her "to get myself off the hook." He denied it. She didn't want to talk about it anyway, she said. She soon moved in with her boyfriend whom she married. They later divorced. She remarried in 1999.
In 1982, when she was 17, her younger sister, Teresa, told her mother that she had been abused by Tony. Marilyn Tony took both teenagers to the state's child protection agency, then known as the Division of Family and Youth Services, Bruesch said.
A DFYS worker interviewed the girls separately, Bruesch said. Nothing came of it. At the time, Bruesch figured that the lack of action meant the touching was trivial. The girls hadn't been raped. Her husband was so angry she had talked to authorities that he punched a hole in the wall.
"That effectively silenced me," she said.
She was glad the matter faded away.
Tony maintained that if anything happened between him and the girls, it was when he was in an alcohol blackout and he couldn't remember. He eventually became sober. For years, Bruesch said, she accepted that explanation.
Marilyn Tony, whose health was fading, died early this month, just shy of age 70, her daughter said.
By 1984 or so, the Tonys were state-licensed foster parents and eventually adopted three of the children. Christy Lawton, director of what is now the state Office of Children's Services, said Friday officials have just retrieved the old foster care and child abuse files from archives and were still going through them. She couldn't confirm the 1982 report.
In a statement filed in court with the new case, Bethel police officer Amy Davis said the state in 1998 substantiated a report of sexual abuse involving a foster daughter. The Tony foster home closed that year, just after Teresa's suicide, Bruesch said.
Things changed when Bruesch found the suicide note last year. She shared it with her niece, Teresa's daughter. The niece revealed that on the night Teresa overdosed, she told her that the abuse went on from age 7 to age 14.
"At that point, I knew he was a liar," Bruesch said. No one, not even an alcoholic stepfather, forgets doing something for seven years.
Marilyn had been running a home day care but had to close it down because of her ailing health, she said.
In October, the 4-year-old told her family Tony had molested her at the day care, according to a police statement. But the family was unsure about going to authorities. The child's father said in a brief telephone interview Friday they didn't want to put their daughter through a criminal case as the lone accuser.
In December, Bruesch began calling the day care parents to tell them her story and see whether any of those children had been hurt.
Hearing from Bruesch convinced the little girl's family to go forward.
"It meant it wasn't just going to be my daughter's word against his," the father said. "It meant there were other people that could substantiate that."
In January, they called Bethel police.
Davis, who has been a police officer three years, all in Bethel, began investigating and this month had enough to file two initial charges, later increased to seven by a grand jury. Tony is jailed in Bethel.
Davis says she is continuing to look for additional victims.
Reach Lisa Demer at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4390.
By LISA DEMER