Baker takes his own life

HOLLIDAYSBURG – The Franciscan friar accused last week of sexually abusing dozens of Bishop McCort High School students during in the 1990s died from a self-inflicted stab wound to the heart Saturday morning, Blair County Coroner Patty Ross said.

He left a note, Ross said, but it is totally confidential.”

Baker was found in his room Saturday morning at St. Bernardine Monastery by another friar, Blair Township Police Chief Roger White stated in a press release. He was 62.

White, state police and the county coroner were dispatched at 7:35 a.m. to St. Bernardine Monastery at 768 Monastery Road, where they investigated until a medical van carried away Bakers covered body minutes before a distant noon church bell rang.

Baker allegedly abused dozens of young boys, according to allegations that began surfacing recently in Ohio and Pennsylvania. He spent the mid-1980s teaching and coaching in Ohio, then at McCort from 1993 to 2000.

“These things are tragedies for everyone involved,” Blair County attorney Richard Serbin said. “This is just one facet of that. This is why its important to stop predators before they hurt kids.”

He said Baker’s death has not changed attorneys’ plans to investigate clients’ claims.

“Bakers death does not materially impact the claims against the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown, Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown or the Third Order Regular Franciscans,” Serbin said.

Boston-based attorney Mitchell Garabedian said Baker may have “hundreds” of victims from McCort.

“I will continue to investigate my clients’ claims and represent them with regard to negligence of Bakers supervisors,” Garabedian said.

Baker served as a religion teacher and athletic trainer at Bishop McCort in Johnstown from 1990 to 2000.

He was removed from public ministry after the St. Bernardine Monastery was made aware of an allegation involving a man who was allegedly abused by Baker in the 1980s, according to Father Patrick Quinn, minister provincial at the monastery.

Despite his removal from ministry, the Mirror reported Saturday that Baker continued to maintain a presence in the area, particularly involving Bishop McCort athletics.

Garabedian questions whether Baker should have been at McCort at all.

“Should he have been there? Should he have been assigned those duties?” he asked.

It was reported last week by the Warren (Ohio) Tribune Chronicle that a settlement was reached with 11 men who claim they were molested by Baker while he coached baseball at John F. Kennedy High School in Warren, Ohio, from 1986 to 1990.

The sexual abuse allegedly occurred in sports-injury related situations including hot tub massages, attorneys said.

Youngstown Catholic Diocese Bishop George Murry apologized Thursday for Bakers actions while at John F. Kennedy High School.

The apology “rang hollow,” Garabedian said.

As a result of Baker’s death, a budding criminal investigation of Baker will end, Cambria County District Attorney Kelly Callihan said.

Callihan said she learned last week of Bakers alleged crimes and has been working with a local law firm to refer claims to Johnstown Police.

“We were coordinating to get people in touch with the police department,” she said.

She confirmed that police “were on notice” of accusations against Baker that surfaced in 2011.

Callihan said she did not learn of allegations against Baker until published news stories last week, but she confirmed that Bishop Mark Bartchak of the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown reported allegations against Baker directly to Johnstown Police in 2011.

After a settlement announcement last week involving 11 men in Ohio, the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown released a statement that individuals notified Bartchak of allegations against Baker in 2011.

“From what I found out, the Johnstown Police did interview the alleged victims,” Callihan said. Callihan said the Johnstown police, who did not return calls to the Mirror Saturday, would have to confirm her information. But to her knowledge, “Victims were adamant, they did not want criminal charges filed against Baker,” she said.

Bishop McCort, a non-diocesan school governed by a board of trustees, hired Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott, a Pittsburgh-based law firm, this week to conduct an internal investigation regarding the abuse allegations.

Jon Paros, a Johnstown resident and 2007 Bishop McCort alumnus, said the abuse allegedly committed by Baker was a shock to him. He called Baker’s suicide a shame.

“People are in shock,” he said. People in the relatively small McCort community are quiet on the subject “but its the elephant in the room,” he said.

“No one’s really sure what to say or how to say it.”

Serbin is investigating claims of 12 former Bishop McCort students, and said he “finds no joy in Bakers death.”

“Its startling news, though it doesnt surprise me,” Serbin said.

He said Baker is the third clergy member to take his life because of child abuse litigation that he has been involved with.

Ross said Bakers death was an act of someone “really unbalanced.”

“To cause a wound into your body is very unusual,” Ross said. “If youre driven so far under, I suppose you have the constitution to do anything.

“I’ve talked to over 250 abuse victims over the years. Every one is different. They are affected differently by the abuse. They are probably affected differently by Bakers death, she said. “Some may say ‘good riddance;’ others may share in the tragedy.”

Mirror Staff Writer Russ O’Reilly is at 946-7435.