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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

UPDATE on Aaron Vargas: Abuse on Trial for Murder

Aaron Vargas on Trial for Killing his Abuser - Ft. Bragg Community Supports Aaron

Below is a letter written by Aaron's Aunt, Rhonda Wilson - then a link to the report in the San Francisco Chronicle as well as a link to previous stories on this case. Abuse leaves victims scarred for life - and even though law enforcement focuses on physical abuse, not all abuse leaves physical evidence.

Thank you Melissa Galliani, for supplying our readers with your brother's story. This picture is of Aaron on his wedding day. This is far more than a murder trial. Abuse and law enforcement's role in how it is handled is also on trial.

This story and the thousands of tales of abuse in our society is bringing all abuse into focus as we enter coming elections with law enforcement and the laws around abuse being examined with fresh eyes through candidate platforms. Stay tuned.

On February 8, 2009, I received a phone call telling me my nephew, Aaron Vargas, had been arrested for killing Darrell McNeill. Of course my first response was disbelief followed by shock and more disbelief. Not possible, not Aaron. Aaron is kind, gentle, and caring. Then of course came the “why”? If what I’m being told is true, then why? What could possibly make this kind, gentle, caring person kill?

It is now February 10, 2010 and that is one of the questions I’ve been thinking about for 367 days. As the story has unfolded the answers to some questions have been immensely devastating. I learned that Darrell was a pedophile. Pedophile is the wrong word, let me rephrase, Darrell raped children. Darrell pretended to be a good father to Aaron’s friend, Michael. Darrell pretended to be a nice neighbor. Darrell pretended to be an upstanding citizen, a “Big Brother,” a Boy Scout leader. Darrell pretended to care for children in order to prey upon them. Darrell, who cared so much for his “little brother,” was the cause of that “little brother’s” eventual suicide. Darrell began molesting – no, molesting is the wrong word - Darrell began
raping Aaron when Aaron was eleven years old. Eleven. Take a moment to remember yourself at eleven. What were you like? What did you think? How did you feel? At eleven did you have much life experience? Aaron was eleven, Darrell was in his forties. Aaron was not Darrell’s first victim, nor was he his last.

Darrell was good at what he did.

After Aaron’s arrest many boys came forward in support of Aaron, telling of the abuse they’d endured by Darrell. In some instances it was the first time they’d ‘told’. In others it was not, they had told before, some had reported it to the police. These boys, I call them boys but they are now men in their thirties and forties, were brave enough to disclose and nothing was done. No investigation - Darrell wasn’t even approached let alone questioned. Nothing.

The days and weeks following Aaron’s arrest were days and weeks of our family continually asking ourselves, “how did we not know?” How was it possible that we had failed Aaron so miserably? The continual conversations with each of us saying, “I should have known”. Why didn’t we? Why didn’t we see it? Why didn’t we know? Seeing the pain and sadness in Aaron’s parents, in my parents, and knowing the heartbreak and despair we all felt at not doing our job, not protecting our loved one. These haunting questions led me to research child abuse and the things I learned broke my heart yet again.

I learned that the abuser is most likely to be a trusted family friend or a family member. I learned one in four girls and one in six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. That 70% of child abusers have between one and nine victims. That 20% have 10 to 40 victims. That an average serial abuser can have as many as 400 victims. That over 30% of victims never disclose the experience to ANYONE, and of those who do disclose, 75% do it accidentally. Is there comfort in knowing that our family is not alone in not knowing? No. None at all.

Learning these things and realizing the “stranger danger” that I taught my children would be of little use in most situations led to my panicked phone call to my son, who is away at Graduate school. Asking him point blank, “have you ever been sexually abused?” A sigh of relief when he responded that he hadn’t, the surprise when he asked me the same question. Thinking yes, he is right, according to the statistics it needs to be a conversation that everyone has no matter parent or child. Then remembering that 30% never disclose leads me to ask again and again to ensure that his response was truthful.

Later it hit me, what if he had said yes? What if my daughter had said yes? What if the answer had been yes, and a friend or family member that I loved and trusted was named, what would I do? In that moment I knew. In that moment I realized that I could kill. Me, a person who has never intentionally killed anything, not even bugs. Me, the person who catches and releases any insects I find in my home. Me, the law-abiding, rational person I thought myself to be, realized that I could kill.

I don’t know exactly what happened the night of February 8, 2009. From what I do know Aaron didn’t go to Darrell’s with the intent of killing him. But if he had I now understand. I understand it is possible for a good person to kill.

In these last 367 days some questions have been answered, but many others have arisen. Why didn’t the police investigate? How is it possible that we as a society allow one in four girls and one in six boys to be sexually abused? How could the Deputy DA on Aaron’s case even utter the words describing the abuse testimony as “self-serving” and “irrelevant”? Why are there so many abusers in our society? How does a person become so messed up that they can rape children? Why does our justice system not work? Why is the DA so intent on sending Aaron to prison for 50-years-to-life, knowing Darrell’s family is supporting him? How do we stop all forms of child abuse? How do we protect every child?

During these 367 days Aaron’s sister, Mindy, has been tirelessly working on his behalf. She started a website called, which provides information on Aaron’s case and on recognizing and preventing child abuse. She’s contacted numerous media organizations trying to get the word out, and she has organized several fundraisers. She’s told me of the many, many people who’ve contacted her and shared their own stories of abuse and who write to Aaron. Tirelessly she is working to bring her brother home, to raise awareness, to protect every child. She is working hard to end the silence of child abuse, and I wonder, why aren’t we all?
Rhonda Wilson
Fort Bragg

San Francisco Chronicle report can be found at: Town backs slaying suspect who tells of abuse

Article: Aaron Vargas - Truth and Justice?