CLAYSBURG - Asked why their town has seen so many child sex abuse cases in just over a month, many Claysburg residents offered the same answer late last week.
"It's in the water."
It's a grim joke, of course, but it hits at a deeper question: Why have police, in just over a month, charged five Claysburg-area residents for crimes at three locations, each barely a mile from the others? And how does the ongoing front-page attention affect a relatively close-knit community of 1,500 people?
"I don't know what it is in this town," said a man smoking with friends outside a tobacco shop. "It wasn't like this when I was younger."
Many locals interviewed asked not to be named, for fear either of reprisal or being associated publicly with the cases.
Even among the few who hadn't heard the case names - the Partsches, Patrick and Tabatha, who allegedly abused young children; the Bryants, Rickey II and Christina, in which the husband allegedly assaulted a child while his wife failed to tell police; and Brittany Weyandt, a 20-year-old who allegedly had a baby with a 14-year-old boy - it usually took only a quick reminder from a friend to recognize the suspect.
"That's so-and-so's daughter, remember?"
Those living in Claysburg, which comprises the more densely populated eastern half of Greenfield Township, all seemed to have their own explanations for the apparent rash of bizarre sex crimes.
Some put it down to excessive news coverage, arguing that child abuse happens everywhere, not just Claysburg.
"Go to Portage, go to Cresson. There's some weird cases up there too," a waitress said between coffee refills at Peggy's Diner.
But even police in Greenfield Township acknowledged that the monthlong spate of arrests has been unique.
In 2011, the township had only two sexually-based offenses, according to the state's crime reporting system. The year before that, there were five.
"My very first call this morning was a complaint of a sexual-type harassment," Greenfield Township Police Chief Ron Givler said.
Givler said high-profile prosecutions and convictions in sex cases can inspire more victims, even in unrelated crimes, to step forward, noting what he called the "old adage" about rape: A huge number are never reported simply because victims fear the publicity.
"How many of these have gone on [elsewhere] that have gone unreported?" he said. "We're - I don't know whether you could say fortunate - that we got these cases."
Pastor Marcus Tanner, who lives in Duncansville but is senior pastor at the Claysburg Church of God off Old Route 220, said he's seen "an overall depression" in many communities, including Claysburg, that can contribute to serious crime.
The past month's reports have intimidated many parents, he said.
"It gives most of the people a feeling of caution with everybody. It would probably make them guard their children closer," Tanner said.
As for the mental state that could allow local adults to sexually abuse children, Tanner was at a loss.
"I just cannot imagine somebody's mind going in that direction," he said. "How can it go there? Even subconsciously?"
A surprising number of Claysburg residents blamed the rise of low-income housing, which they claimed draws an undesirable element to the small town.
One man - part of a definite minority - stressed at least one suspect's innocence, attributing Tabatha Partsch's serial-abuse case to a family rivalry.
No matter what they say about the individual cases, however, nearly everyone interviewed agreed that the allegations have shed a harsh light on Claysburg. With news organizations as far away as England picking up the stories, it could be difficult to repair the small community's sudden new reputation.
"Anytime you have cases of child sex abuse being reported on a weekly basis, it does bring up a bad image of a town," Rich Gergely said as he ate at Peggy's Diner. "But it's a great place to raise a family. ... It's not a fair reputation."
Onlookers shouldn't apply the past month's arrests to Claysburg as a whole, Givler said.
"It's an unfair assumption to make. There are a lot of good people in this community," he said. "And like any other community, we have our share of bad apples."
And while Givler acknowledged that no police force can stop every sex abuse case, Claysburg's five recent arrests might provoke more victims to come forward, he said, noting that more allegations against Jerry Sandusky surfaced after the first reports last fall.
As they described other possible child-abuse cases in surrounding neighborhoods, the friends smoking outside the cigarette shop said Claysburg might see more arrests soon.
"They haven't even scratched the surface," one said.