HAMMOND — A teary St. Casimir principal spoke to parents asking for their understanding, prayer and patience as Hammond police investigate an alleged child molestation incident reported to police Monday.
“My daughter goes to this school, too. I know all of you want peace of mind as parents,” St. Casimir Principal Lorenza Pastrick said. “We have great parents and staff here. I can’t, and won’t, let any of our children be at risk.”
A special Friday morning meeting was held following the child molestation allegations reported Monday, drawing a crowd of more than 150 parents to the Catholic school.
Hammond Police Lt. Richard Hoyda said the incident was reported by the child’s mother.
According to the police report, the incident occurred between 7:15 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. Monday. The mother reported the incident to police by telephone at 6:11 that night.
At this point, no one has been identified as the person involved, and the circumstances surrounding the event are unclear.
Pastrick said the investigation is ongoing, and it may take a while to know more about what happened, if anything.
Pastrick sent a letter to parents Wednesday alerting them to the alleged incident. She said police contacted her Tuesday about the molestation complaint made by the family member.
“At that time, the child involved was not able to put a name with the face,” Pastrick said in the letter. “St. Casimir has been cooperating fully with police and in the interest of timely communication, the notice was sent to parents.”
Pastrick told parents she would not “impede the investigation.” She said she wants police to do everything necessary to keep the 460 school children safe and investigate the alleged incident.
Pastrick asked parents not to “make knee-jerk reactions” about pulling their children from the school, but that she would respect their decisions.
She said officers will be in the building until the investigation is complete. Pastrick said when students, especially younger students, go to the bathroom, teachers would be standing outside at the door.
Teachers will be on “high alert,” she said, adding that if parents see anything out of the ordinary to report it to police.
“I pray we get through this,” Pastrick said. “We will put cameras on the outside of the building, and now we want to put cameras on the inside of the building. We hope to have that accomplished in a month.”
Pastrick planned to meet with a crisis counselor to talk about how to address the incident with children.
Barbara O’Block, superintendent of the Diocese of Gary, who was at the meeting, echoed Pastrick’s comments and said she supported the principal, her openness with parents and her handling of the alleged incident.
Hammond police Detective Jason Gonzalez was at the school Friday morning and said he will be working with the school during the investigation.
He said there likely will be heightened security at the building.
“When something like this happens, it shakes up a school and the community whether it’s true or not,” Gonzalez said. “If I can’t be here, another officer from the department will be here monitoring the interior and exterior of the building.”
Pastrick said there will be “more eyes” throughout the school, revamped policies and practices, and the school will continue to do criminal background checks on parent volunteers.
Pastrick said social media and the news media are quick to report about problems at the school or anything negative, but didn’t report that the school earned an A from the Indiana Department of Education or that it is an Indiana Blue Ribbon school. She also said no one has reported that four of the top 12 Bishop Noll Institute students graduating with distinction in 2016 were St. Casimir School graduates.
The Blue Ribbon Schools Program honors schools that are either high performing or have improved student achievement to high levels, especially among disadvantaged students.