Jan. 13, 2004 – A criminal case of child molestation at a St. Thomas resort in April of 2000 that resulted in a conviction 11 months later and one of several civil actions subsequently filed and still pending put the territory in the national spotlight last week and will likely do so again this week.
The focus is on Bryan Hornby, who from November or December 1999 to May 2000 was supervisor of the Wyndham Sugar Bay Resort Kids Club on St. Thomas, and on the resort management and ownership.
People Magazine in an article headlined "Trouble comes to Paradise" in its Jan. 12 issue — which went off the shelves on Tuesday when the Jan. 19 issue came out — carried the subtitle "Sophie Gayter was molested at a Caribbean resort. Now her parents ask: Was she the only one?"
ABC Television's "Good Morning America" program on Wednesday was tentatively scheduled to carry a segment on the same topic. Melinda Arons, producer of the segment, said on Tuesday evening that "it's scheduled for tomorrow, but it might move," depending on what other news priorities there were on Wednesday morning.
The magazine account and the GMA report concern the family of Paul Gayter, his wife Flora Nicholas, and their daughter and son, who reside in the Washington, D.C., area.
Hornby was arrested in May 2000 and charged with molesting the then 9-year-old girl. Police at the time were investigating a report that Hornby, 22, also had unlawful contact with another girl who had been at the resort with her family. (See the May 5, 2000, St. Thomas Source report "Sugar Bay, Wyndham still mum on child's rape".)
A release issued by the V.I. Justice Department at the time concerning Hornby's arrest stated that Justice officials were in the process of "contacting the families of other children Mr. Hornby supervised."
In March 2001, Hornby was convicted in Territorial Court of one count of unlawful sexual contact with the 9-year-old girl at the resort and was sentenced to five years in prison.
As of last fall, three families — those of the 9-year-old girl and two others — were reported to have filed civil suits against Hornby, Sugar Bay and/or Wyndham's corporate management. (See the St. Thomas Source account "Resort sued for third time over ex-employee".)
The 900-word People Magazine account quotes Flora Nicholas as recalling that Hornby "just oozed charm" when they met him at the resort. It says the parents did not learn of their daughter's molestation until two weeks after they returned home from their vacation on St. Thomas. The parents went to authorities, and Hornby was promptly arrested.
But now, the article states, "The Gayters are suing Wyndham International, the parent company, for compensatory and punitive damages, and — noting in court papers that most child molesters have multiple victims — are seeking to force Wyndham to help them determine whether Hornby abused other children under his care."
Last year, according to the article, "Wyndham tried to block a request by the Gayters for the names of 150 families whose kids had had contact with Hornby, so that the former guests could be canvassed about possible molestation. The company argued that the Gayters were simply stirring up trouble and that this would 'have a significant and irreparable negative impact on the hotel's bookings and reservations.' (A judge later ordered the list given to the Gayters' lawyers but prohibited them from telling families that a molestation had occurred.)"
The article also quotes Douglas Dick, assistant V.I. attorney general, as saying that during the criminal investigation, Wyndham gave V.I. police a list of guests whose children had been under Hornby's supervision. It further cites Dick as saying that authorities checked the list but found no evidence of additional incidents, but as declining "to say whether the list was complete, how many names were contacted or what the families were told about Hornby and the charges against him."
The magazine noted the two other civil suits filed by families in Rhode Island and Massachusetts and stated: "According to Virgin Islands Attorney General Iver Stridiron, those cases are under 'aggressive investigation.'"
Meanwhile, the civil suit brought by the Gayters against Hornby, Wyndham International, Wyndham Management Corp., Sugar Bay Club and Resort Corp. and Sugar Bay general manager Rick Blyth is making its way through the judicial process. On Oct. 15, 2003, District Judge Thomas K. Moore rejected the defendants' appeal of a magistrate judge's orders in June and August of last year imposing time restrictions on psychological examinations of the Gayter family members and prohibiting video recording of the examinations.
The People article says that "the Gayters argue that there is a special urgency in their efforts to contact other potential victims. Hornby, who has served more than three years, is now eligible for parole and could soon be released and deported back to [his native] Zimbabwe, where he might be beyond the reach of U.S. law."
Bridgette Maney, publicist for "Good Morning America," said on Tuesday evening that the People Magazine article was one of several accounts that led the show to do a segment on the Gayter family. The segment, like the article, she said, focuses on the family's efforts to contact other families whose children, they contend, may have been abused by Hornby.
"The family is certainly a part of the story," Maney said. "They're going to be in New York to talk to us." She said "we also asked the Wyndham management to go on the show, and they declined but did provide a written statement that will be a part of the segment."
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