A few parents were uneasy about the longtime scoutmaster of Troop 650 in Burnsville, in part because he was known to spend time alone with individual scouts, which is prohibited. But until this week, most of those scouts and their parents had no idea just how bad the allegations against Peter R. Stibal would become.
Stibal, 44, of Burnsville, was charged Wednesday with six felony crimes for allegedly molesting three scouts. Several parents whose sons were not the victims say that Stibal often broke the rule that required two adults to be present on all outings with scouts.
Some had even asked for his ouster over the years, but he kept his post.
Wednesday's charges in Dakota County District Court allege Stibal molested three boys between 2002 and 2008, including acts of sexual penetration. Burnsville police are continuing to investigate Stibal, who also interacted with young people during trips and other youth activities through his church. He also worked as a substitute school bus driver in the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage district.
One of the victims reported the alleged abuse to Burnsville police this month, and the ensuing investigation found two other victims, according to court documents. Police are continuing to investigate if there were other victims.
"Between the church and his full-time job dealing with school transportation and the Boy Scouts, he had access to a lot of children over a long period of time," Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom said.
For families connected to the scout troop, the news hit hard.
"I feel like the rug was pulled out from under me," said Michael Nelson, 19, an assistant scoutmaster and Eagle Scout with Troop 650.
He said Stibal's behavior seemed a bit odd at times, but the news that he had allegedly molested children was shocking to several scouts and their parents.
Stibal, who is single and has no children, earned his own Eagle rank as a member of the same troop.
Michael Nelson's mother, Ginger Nelson, said her own husband had confronted Stibal years ago about violating the rule against being alone with any child, and that the couple spoke with at least one other parent about replacing Stibal, who had been scoutmaster for years.
"He bothered me," Ginger Nelson said of Stibal. "It's just the vibes I got."
But nothing prepared the family for the news that came Monday night when officials with the Boy Scouts Northern Star Council and a Burnsville police detective called scouts and their families to a meeting at a Burnsville church to tell them about Stibal. About 40 attended, said Kent York, a spokesman for the council.
"People were stunned, in disbelief, shocked," York said. "Scouting is a family, and the parents know the other kids, and their concern is for all of the kids in the troops."
He admits rubs, denies abuse
The criminal complaint filed Wednesday alleges that the crimes occurred while he was alone with individual boys at a scout camp, two movie theaters and Stibal's cabin on Big Lake in Stearns County.
He remains in custody at the Dakota County Jail. Bail has been set at $1 million without conditions or $500,000 with conditions.
Word spread quickly from that meeting in Burnsville to the many alumni of the troop, including Nathaniel Durand, 19, who is attending college in Duluth.
"I've heard about it but I'm just as confused as anyone else," said Durand, who has been out of Troop 650 for some time.
Stibal was an assistant scoutmaster from 2000 to 2003. He then became scoutmaster of the post, which has 25 members and 13 adult volunteers, and held that position until he was removed last week.
Stibal told investigators that he had been alone with some boys and admitted giving them back rubs, but he denied sexually abusing them.
Stibal also has been a member of Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville since childhood, and he has volunteered with youth activities and chaperoned two annual mission trips to Mexico for high school students.
Kay Craighead, director of administration at the church, said she did not know Stibal and had not heard any complaints about him until police contacted the church this week. But the church will be sending a letter to parishioners about the allegations.
Stibal started working for First Student, the private company contracted to transport students in School District 191, in May 2007 as a bus driver. In October of that year, he switched to an office job, coordinating the bus routes serving special education students. He still drove the bus from time to time as a substitute driver.
Bonnie Bastian, a spokeswoman for First Student, said Stibal is on unpaid leave during the investigation.
"We're totally shocked because he had a [criminal] background check prior to employment and it gave no indication of potential issues," Bastian said.
District 191 Superintendent Randy Clegg sent a letter to the parents of about 300 special education students Thursday informing them of the charges against Stibal and noting that the investigation has focused on his Boy Scout activities, not bus driving.
Burnsville police Sgt. Jef Behnken confirmed that, saying, "None of our investigation is pointing to anything that might have happened while he was in that capacity."
Yet police believe there could be more victims and are urging anyone with information to contact Detective Jeff Pfaff at 952-895-4585.
Cathy Gregg, the mother of a former Troop 650 member who was an Eagle scout and a scouting volunteer, said she still has faith in the Boy Scouts.
"I so respect dedicated volunteers of Boy Scouts of America, and it makes me so mad that this is going to smear a wonderful organization."
Joy Powell • 952-882-9017 Katie Humphrey • 952-882-9056