Families of victims in Franklin raise awareness of alleged sexual predator | #childpredator | #kidsaftey | #childsaftey

FRANKLIN, W.Va. (WHSV) – In Franklin, West Virginia, the community continues to deal with a troubling case of alleged sexual abuse of minors. A 61-year-old man, Lawrence Puffenbarger, known as Grasshopper by the community was indicted on seven felony charges of First Degree Sexual Abuse in November.

Court records show all the victims in the case are under 12 years old.

Puffenbarger is currently out of jail on a home incarceration bond where he is prohibited from having any contact with minors. However, that offers little comfort to the families of the victims, some of whom live very close to him in the small town.

“It’s seven months next week since his first arrest on July 14, and all we have is him sitting there as our neighbor in the middle of town by everyone,” said Cassie Adkins Piel, the mother of one of the victims in the case.

Adkins Piel and her family have been neighbors of Puffenbarger for two years. Her daughter is one of the victims in the case, and Adkins Piel has been advocating for her daughter and the other victims over the last several months.

“There are a lot of people out there that are very concerned. They feel like this is going to be covered up, they feel like he is going to get off on this is what they say. Whether that would be the exam for mental incapacity I’m not sure, but what we want right now is justice,” she said.

Adkins Piel said that Puffenbarger would often frequent the local restaurants, gas stations, and other places where children would walk and spend time in the small town.

WHSV spoke with another mother and her young daughter who said she was a victim of Puffenbarger. The two wished to remain anonymous.

“There’s definitely a lot of stress of not knowing and not feeling safe walking in your community, or letting your teenagers have that little bit of independence where they can go into the post office and check their own mail, or they can go into an eatery and have a milkshake with their friends,” said the mother.

The young victim who spoke with WHSV said that Puffenbarger groped her. The family said there are many other victims besides those represented in the court case who have been afraid to come forward. They believe that Puffenbarger’s abuse in the community dates back many years.

“Some of the victims, they can’t really speak because they are scared, and they’re too young to understand that he’s doing all this and they know it’s bad. So, I just want to speak for them,” said the anonymous victim.

The mother said people are afraid to speak out because Puffenbarger has deep roots and connections in the Franklin community.

“He knows a lot of people. He’s been given a lot of respect. He was even given an award for best citizen at one time during the Treasure Mountain Festival that we have here yearly. People are afraid to speak up because of his popularity and status in the town,” said the mother.

Puffenbarger also volunteered with Pendleton County Schools in the past. School Board meeting minutes from October 2013 show he was approved as a volunteer at Franklin Elementary School.

Adkins Piel said she believes many people haven’t spoken up for fear of losing their jobs.

“I think we do have a problem of now that they’ve noticed that some people are being spoken out against or retaliation is going on they don’t want to come forward,” said Adkins Piel. “You have the problem of not wanting to come forward for retaliation of you as a person but then also in your job. Here in a tiny place like where we live, jobs are hard to come by, so this is well-being and life that we’re talking about.”

Adkins Piel and the other mother said there has been a concerning lack of communication with the families of the victims during Puffenbarger’s court process.

“We can’t deny justice. We also can’t allow our children to sit here and know that justice hasn’t been served, or other people in the community that have these same ill intentions. So, I think we need to show that the children are safe,” said Adkins Piel.

The anonymous mother who spoke with WHSV said she hopes more people will be willing to speak up about what has allegedly been happening in Franklin.

“There is no need to be silent about this anymore. It needs to be brought forth, parents need to speak up, they need to educate their children, school staff needs to be educated on how to deal with these young girls that are going through this,” she said.

Piel and other families in Franklin will hold a peaceful silent walk through the town on Sunday, Jan. 14 to show support for the victims. Adkins Piel said it has been important for her to show support for the victims.

“Some of the victims are actually daughters of close friends of mine. I grew up with them, and now I’m watching their daughters be victimized at the same time that doesn’t hit real well when your own daughter has been victimized too. I need everyone to hold strong and I do this knowing that in the end, I’ll have support in the background as well. So, every day I get up and think if we can make a difference one day, if we can make sure one more child isn’t hurt, if we can make sure that this town is one step safer, then we’ve done what we needed to do,” she said.

Neither Puffenbarger’s attorney nor Pendleton County Prosecutor April Mallow could be reached for comment on Thursday.

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