Allegations of sexual abuse at prestigious Shattuck-St. Mary's in Faribault continue to ripple through the community, where the prep school is a major economic and cultural influence.
FARIBAULT - Audrey Kletscher Helbling's first instinct was to hide the local newspaper from an out-of-town guest.
The headlines overwhelmed her with shock and shame: Not only did a Shattuck-St. Mary's drama teacher face sexual abuse and child pornography charges involving former students, the prestigious Episcopalian prep school may have known about earlier instances of misconduct, but failed to report them to police.
"I sort of correlated my reaction to how Shattuck may have reacted," said Helbling, a freelance writer. "It's natural not to want to put a black eye on your institution, but it's definitely not right."
Former drama teacher Lynn Seibel, 70, faces 17 felony counts of sexual misconduct for allegedly molesting six boys between 1996 and 2003. Police say the investigation continues as police receive additional reports from former students.
The allegations cast a pall over the storied 154-year-old boarding school known as a hub for elite athletes and future leaders, where the grounds on the city's east side resemble an East Coast private college.
Downtown, business owners and residents said they were saddened, but remained confident the charges wouldn't permanently damage the school that has proven a major driver to the local culture and economy and is well-integrated into the city of 23,400.
"Nice group of kids," said Mike Quernemoen, a tattoo artist at Images Everlasting, who said about a dozen Shattuck students come in every year for tattoos and piercings. He said he was saddened by news of the charges.
"It's a touchy subject," he said. "They should have done something. Somebody should have to pay for it."
Across the street, a music store owner said he'd done business with Shattuck for 40 years, and wasn't going to jeopardize it by discussing the case. Marvin Lloyd, owner of Lloyd's Barber Shop, said Shattuck students and their fathers frequently stop in for a shave and a haircut.
"It was shocking to see that something like that went on up there for so long without being addressed," said Lloyd, whose daughter takes ice skating lessons there. He said that the negative attention will likely blow over, and again be replaced by acclaim for the school's world-class hockey, drama and other programs.
Bruce Burkhartzmeyer, co-owner of a downtown shoe store, remembered Seibel from when their sons played baseball together. He was a well-known figure in Faribault, but had been gone nearly 10 years.
"I feel sad for the school," he said. "I don't sense anger. I just sense disappointment and a general sadness."
The charges against Seibel also drew ire from Faribault's interim police chief toward the school. Chief Don Gudmundson criticized Shattuck officials for failing to report Seibel to police earlier, when they received a complaint of abuse in 2001, and when they fired him in 2003 after discovering child pornography on his computer. The school maintains it reported the 2001 complaint to police and county social services, and that the pornography found in 2003 didn't rise to a level requiring the school to report it. Police remain incredulous.
"If we would have received that information, we would have written police reports and we would have conducted investigations," Faribault police Capt. Neal Pederson said. "There would have been action taken on our part that information was received of this nature. It would definitely raise flags."
A spokesman for the school declined to comment Friday. In a letter to the Faribault Daily News this week, Shattuck President Nick Stoneman called the charges "sad, repugnant and deeply upsetting to all of us." He stressed that the school is cooperating with investigators and urged Faribault residents to share their concerns.
"Our roots in this community are deep, strong and enduring, and we will continue to be an engaged and active participant," he wrote.
Charges against Seibel say he instigated "AP drama" sessions with teen boys that included group masturbation, other sexually explicit activities and use of pornography. They allege that 14,000 files of or images of pornography were found on his computer. After he left Shattuck, Seibel went on to continue acting. In one clip of his role in television's "The Big Bang Theory," Seibel's character struts across the room naked. In the next clip, his character refers to a classic artwork and makes clear the characters had just had sex.
He remains in the Los Angeles County jail facing unrelated child pornography charges. Pederson said Seibel will remain there until that case is resolved. In the meantime, he said, detectives continue to investigate.
Police criticism of the school's handling of the case caused Gudmundson to release details of a 2008 suicide by a teacher accused of having an affair with a student. Teacher and dorm director Len Jones shot himself after he was confronted by school officials. Gudmundson said the school should have called police immediately after they learned of the affair, calling their decision not to "unacceptable."
A Faribault police report detailing the allegations against Jones details the three-year relationship that began when the girl was 15. According to reports, she told police they had sex in both her dorm room and his apartment, and at times had to cut back because rumors were spreading on campus. They were caught after school officials determined she did not go home to Korea during a break, but spent time with Jones, who was separated from his wife.
Many are still astounded about what happened at the school, where tuition runs $40,450 a year and executives and high-powered attorneys, including Hubert "Skip" H. Humphrey III, are on the Board of Trustees.
"I had no frickin' idea how this could have happened, a tremendous mistake like that," said J.P. Parise, former Shattuck hockey coach and father of Shattuck alumnus and NHL star Zach Parise, who signed to play with the Minnesota Wild.
Parise said he knew Seibel and encouraged kids to join drama. He's baffled by both the allegations against Seibel and the school.
"When I was at Shattuck I knew everything. I found out everything, and never did something like that come to my desk," he said. "How can that not come out?"
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921