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Town Reacts to Sex Offender

October 9, 1997

WATERLOO, Iowa (AP) _ Elementary school officials distributed bright pink warning notices and locked all but the main entrance. Older siblings carried baseball bats as they picked up their brothers and sisters.

Fifty yards away from Longfellow Elementary School, Gerry Abrahamson sat tearful Wednesday in her two-story house as she ignored taunts from the street and questioned why her son, a convicted sex offender, couldn’t be left alone.

``My child did something wrong when he was 15,″ Mrs. Abrahamson said. ``He’s sorry. He said he’d never do it again. I know my son. He said he learned his lesson.″

But authorities aren’t so sure. For the first time in Iowa since a sex offender registry was created in 1995, residents have been notified a person convicted of a sex crime has moved into their neighborhood.

Richard D. Abrahamson, who turned 18 on Wednesday, was released Tuesday from a juvenile facility to return to his mother’s home near the school’s cafeteria-gymnasium entrance.

In June 1995, when Abrahamson was 15, he entered a Waterloo home through a window and kidnapped a 10-year-old boy at knife point. The youth was brought to Abrahamson’s home and sexually abused.

Abrahamson served nearly two years at the Eldora State Training School after pleading guilty to second-degree sexual abuse.

The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation said Abrahamson was a ``dangerous sexual predator who may likely re-offend″ and told police that he was moving back to his old neighborhood.

When local police informed the public Tuesday, it set off a panic in Waterloo, an agricultural equipment manufacturing and meatpacking town of about 65,000 in northeast Iowa.

``I don’t think it’s right that he can basically look out his window and see all these kids,″ said LaToya Godfrey, whose three children asked her to pick them up after school.

At a neighborhood meeting Wednesday night, Principal Christina Windsor told a crowd of 250 people that security measures were being put in place, including mandatory name tags for staff and visitors, supervised bathroom breaks and locked outside doors.

``I don’t wish anyone any ill will,″ she said. ``I just want what’s best for the children.″

Police Chief Bernal Koehrsen said patrols would be increased around the school.

When a convicted sex offender registers with local authorities, officials consider a variety of factors to determine whether it is necessary to notify the public. Koehrsen decided it was necessary in Abrahamson’s case.

``The risk assessment indicates this person is at risk to re-offend and that persons of either gender and any age may be at risk,″ he said.

R. Ben Stone, executive director of the Iowa Civil Liberties Union, said Koehrsen helped incite a panic.

``When someone like the police chief makes a comment like that, it certainly creates an atmosphere of hysteria and enhances the possibility of vengeance wreaked upon this person,″ Stone said.

Mrs. Abrahamson, who has lived at the house for 3 1/2 years, said her family has been threatened and neighbors have stopped speaking with her. During an interview Wednesday, a car stopped in front of her house and its occupants shouted profanities.

``It was a real friendly place. I loved to live here. But now I’m scared to death,″ said Mrs. Abrahamson, who would not allow a reporter to speak with her son.

``He will not go outdoors by himself,″ she said. ``Rich is a slow child. He doesn’t have a high IQ. He needs that extra protection and love.″

Parents, too, are fearful for their children.

``He should not be living here right next to school and be tempted by the children,″ said Kris McBride, whose 5-year-old daughter attends the school. ``Temptation is going to soon eat away at him and eventually he’s going to act upon it.″

Joseph Ayala, 15, toted a pool cue as he waited to pick up his fourth-grade sister when school let out.

``I want him to move,″ he said. ``I’m just concerned about my sister.″

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