Biker group helps abused kids
When a local youngster first appeared for the preliminary hearing, the man accused of raping her and the woman who allegedly ordered the girl into his bedroom had many supporters there.
The mother of the 13-year-old girl, though, said her daughter was frightened and essentially alone in the courtroom. She became a recluse in the house, cried a lot and didn’t want to go to school, her mom said.
After the first hearing in the office of Magisterial District Judge Craig Ormsby of Roaring Spring, matters became worse.
“Every day we cried,” said the mother, who rides motorcycles and heard from friends about Bikers Against Child Abuse, a group centered in Bedford County that befriends and counsels victims from many area counties.
The mother decided something had to be done and emailed “RC,” a member who responded with others that night coming to her home, which is more than an hour’s drive from his Meyersdale residence.
When the biker group showed up to meet the child, one of the members was a short woman whose road name is “Hugger.”
“My daughter really became close to her,” the mother said.
The association with the bikers has boosted the youngster’s self-esteem, said her mother. The girl got her vest and her road name, and she received RC’s telephone number, which she can call at any time if she is feeling unsafe.
RC and “Karma” of Six Mile Run in Bedford County use their Harleys to help children like the Martinsburg teenager, as well as “Lil Booger,” “Hot Wheels” and “Princess,” who are victims of child sexual and physical abuse and neglect.
The group only uses road names as identifiers.
RC’s involvement started a few years ago when the 52-year-old was watching television and saw “an absolutely horrible story” about the sexual abuse of a child.
“I can’t believe we watched that story and had no reaction,” he said, speaking of the community as a whole.
“I decided I wanted to get involved,” he said.
And involved he has become.
RC enlisted in BACA, and he and other biker friends formed the Laurel Highlands Chapter.
Karma, 28, became involved in the group through his father, who carried the road name “Beast.”
Beast was the leader of the area’s BACA organization until an accident last September took his life on I-70 as he was on his way to Ocean City.
Karma, himself the father of a young child, is carrying on for his father.
The two men are large and project a serious demeanor, but in reality they are just people who have jobs and families, trying to make a living and, with BACA, trying to make a difference.
RC is the assistant manager of a wind farm, and Karma is a welder who is temporarily laid off while his Bedford County company relocates closer to Altoona.
They smile easily and joke with each other, but when it comes to the kids, helping and protecting them, they are serious to the core.
BACA calls for a strength of its own. Bikers are known as physically tough people who don’t abide foolishness, but RC explained that helping the kids, knowing what they have been through, is “emotionally taxing.”
RC and Karma said that many of the children who have been through abuse are so frightened they won’t leave their homes.
The BACA members surround the children with their size and strength. For instance, they shield the kids from the alleged perpetrators in court.
They visit and play with the children. They take them into their organization and provide them with BACA vests and road names.
The kids get to choose their names, and that’s the origin of “Lil Booger,” “Hot Wheels” and “Princess.”
“It’s very emotionally taxing to listen to some of these things,” RC said.
That’s why every BACA chapter has a therapist who is not only available for the children but for the bikers themselves.
The Laurel Highlands Chapter is looking for a local therapist to be associated with the organization.
The biker group has chapters in 40 states and six foreign countries, but, as RC and Karma explained, the effort began just about 20 years ago with a therapist, John Paul Lilly, whose road name is “Chief.”
“He grew up as a poor kid. He didn’t have a lot of friends,” said RC.
Chief visited a biker clubhouse one day and fell in love with the road.
He grew up and went to college where he studied psychology. He then became a licensed clinical social worker specializing in play therapy.
Much of Chief’s work involved abused children, and he found that while children were receiving help, there were some gaps that had to be filled.
One gap involved safety. Despite precautions and court involvement, perpetrators had a way of still gaining access to the kids, continuing to inflict wounds.
Law enforcement can’t protect children around the clock. The manpower just isn’t there, Chief determined.
He also noted a need for funding to provide play therapy.
Combining his concern for children with his love of riding motorcycles, Chief conceived the idea of Bikers Against Child Abuse Inc., a tax-exempt organization.
When the group is called to help a child, BACA first makes sure the situation is a real case of abuse, not an unconfirmed claim tossed around to sway a judge in a custody case.
The BACA bikers, including women, have all gone through background checks and have been trained on the effects of abuse on children, how to communicate with victims and how to conduct themselves.
RC and Karma have literature they distribute about BACA, and it states clearly the group’s philosophy:
“We are dedicated to the principle that one of the basic rights of childhood is to be safe and protected, and when the child’s family and environment have failed them, we stand ready to provide it to them.”
RC said Chief used his motorcycle background to help an 8-year-old abused boy who was refusing to talk. The cycle therapy helped bring the child out of his shell.
There was a similar situation in McConnellsburg, said RC.
A young girl there was “horrified of men,” he said.
That type of fear is not unusual, said the two BACA members.
As RC explained, the first visit with the child, which he calls Level I, includes an entire BACA contingent so BACA members showed up in McConnellsburg. A female with the group helped break the ice, and the next thing they knew, the girl came out to meet her new friends.
The bikers have regular visits with the children. RC said they talk to the child and let the child decide what is going to happen during the visit.
If the child brings out a baseball and wants to play catch, that’s what they do that day.
There is a Level II that the bikers are ready to provide, but which hasn’t been used yet by the Laurel Highlands group.
If a perpetrator or associates are threatening the child in his or her home, the bikers will provide round-the-clock protection.
“No child should live in fear,” said RC.
The kids, he said, become members of the organization until they are 18.
Helping a local victim
As time went on, the Martinsburg girl, knowing she was protected, came out of her shell.
BACA members don’t take children on long rides, but they do go short distances with the kids on their bikes, and according to the mother, her daughter loves riding the road.
“They make her feel she is not the victim any more. … I can’t tell you how she feels. … They teach the child she is no longer the victim,” the mother told the Mirror.
The girl is no longer afraid to talk, and what she says about her encounter with the suspected perpetrator is that, “I did nothing wrong.”
“Kids love the bikers,” said the mother. She said the daughter would never ride with her or her husband but has no problem hopping onto RC’s bike.
Therapy is helping the youngster cope, said the mother, but her daughter’s association with the bikers has made her feel she’s part of the world once again.
The youngster even emailed pictures of her new friends that she took with her camera phone.
And when a preliminary hearing in the girl’s case was held in March and the youngster went to court a second time, she was no longer alone. Several BACA members were there.
Blair County’s victim-witness coordinator Sue Griep said the BACA group, which sent six bikers to the hearing, was “very respectful of the court proceedings and very helpful to the victim and the victim’s family.”
Ormsby was concerned about intimidation in the courtroom, so only two bikers attended the actual hearing. However, everywhere the youngster went in the building or outside, she was accompanied by her new friends and shielded from the suspects.
Knowing that the girl’s parents were “sequestered,” or not permitted in the courtoom while she testified, the bikers gave the girl a teddy bear to hold while she testified.
Griep said the girl was comfortable. “I think she felt safer.”
Being safe is important, said Griep. It gives child victims peace of mind and, importantly, “control over their lives.”
The mother said of the bikers, “They are like our family.”
Griep was so impressed with the way the BACA bikers handled themselves, she said, “We kind of welcome them to the support team for victims.”
She quipped that the therapy provided to child abuse victims is important but said, “They [therapists] are not quite as much fun as receiving a teddy bear from a biker.”
She called the idea of bikers helping abused children “neat and different.”
Mirror Staff Writer Phil Ray is at 946-7468.