I meant to link to his a while back when it appeared in the LA Times, then got caught up in Fitzmas obsessions and whatnot, and neglected to. So I’m doing it now.
From Kyle Zirpolo, one of the child accusers in the McMartin preschool-molestation trial: I lied.
I’m not saying nothing happened to anyone else at the McMartin Pre-School. I can’t say that — I can only speak for myself. Maybe some things did happen. Maybe some kids made up stories about things that didn’t really happen, and eventually started believing they were telling the truth. Maybe some got scared that the teachers would get their families because they were lying. But I never forgot I was lying.
My stepdad was a police officer who had guns in the house. I remember when all of this was coming down, he was put on a leave of absence from work because he was being investigated for supposedly threatening the McMartin family. He was cleared of that accusation — apparently it wasn’t true. But being only 9 years old at the time, I thought my dad was saying he would kill the McMartins. So in my mind, I figured no one from the school was going to dare mess with him because he would have hurt them first. That made me feel secure. It could be a reason I never mixed up reality and fantasy and always knew I was lying.
But the lying really bothered me. One particular night stands out in my mind. I was maybe 10 years old and I tried to tell my mom that nothing had happened. I lay on the bed crying hysterically — I wanted to get it off my chest, to tell her the truth. My mother kept asking me to please tell her what was the matter. I said she would never believe me. She persisted: “I promise I’ll believe you! I love you so much! Tell me what’s bothering you!” This went on for a long time: I told her she wouldn’t believe me, and she kept assuring me she would. I remember finally telling her, “Nothing happened! Nothing ever happened to me at that school.”
She didn’t believe me.
I moved to Manhattan Beach after preschool age, but a lot of my friends in junior high and high school were former McMartin students. My girlfriend and her brother both went there; both were interviewed as part of the investigation, and both said they’d never seen or experienced anything unusual or questionable.
I give Zirpolo a lot of credit for being willing to come forward now. But I can also understand the surviving defendants refusing to meet with him to hear his apology.
Children lie. Hell, grownups lie, all the time. But for children, there’s something innocent about it, an element of the fantastical, magical thinking that makes anything potential as “true” as any other thing. Words like “fantastical” and “magical” have something of a positive connotation, and I’m not trying to say there’s anything good about little kids lying, especially when the lies ruin the lives of innocent third parties.
But the children who testified in the McMartin trial to abuses that didn’t actually take place weren’t really responsible for their actions. They were little kids. They were victims of the process, too. But the grownups who elicited those accusations from them, and the police and district attorneys and parents who took the ball and ran with it, and the media that sold lots and lots of advertising while demonizing Ray and his mother and the rest of the accused, have more to answer for.