Editor’s note: the following statement was released yesterday by the office of Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan.
Attorney General T.J. Donovan, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George, Vermont State Police, and the Burlington Police Department today announced the conclusion of their criminal investigation into the former St. Joseph’s Orphanage in Burlington, Vermont. No charges will be brought involving the Orphanage, which closed in 1974. Due to the statutes of limitation, which limit the timeframe during which criminal charges can be brought by the State, only the crime of murder would have been prosecutable due to the passage of time since the events of the allegations. Sufficient evidence to support a murder charge was not found. This concludes an investigation that began in September of 2018. A nearly 300-page report describing the allegations, investigation, and the St. Joseph’s Orphanage Restorative Inquiry was released today.
In August 2018, a lengthy article in BuzzFeed News described abuse and murder allegations by former residents of the St. Joseph’s Orphanage. The Orphanage was in operation from 1854 to 1974 on North Avenue in Burlington, Vermont. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, the Sisters of Providence, and Vermont Catholic Charities all played some role in its operation. In response to the article, investigative partners, including the Attorney General’s Office, Office of the Mayor of Burlington, Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office, Vermont State Police, and the Burlington Police Department, formed the St. Joseph Orphanage Task Force. Over the past two years, the Task Force interviewed individuals who came forward with allegations related to the Orphanage. As part of its investigation, the Task Force also gathered and reviewed documents and other potentially corroborating materials and visited the site of the Orphanage to determine whether there was evidence of crimes.
In addition to the investigation, the Task Force began a restorative inquiry to further the healing of the former residents of the Orphanage and the greater community. This process, led by an independent restorative justice professional, remains ongoing. More information about the St. Joseph’s Orphanage Restorative Inquiry can be found here.
“I want to thank the Task Force for their work to investigate these horrific allegations,” said Attorney General Donovan. “To the victims I want to say, the legal system designed to protect the most vulnerable failed you and did not protect you when you were children living at the St. Joseph’s Orphanage, and for this I am sorry.”
“The former residents of St. Joseph’s have shown immense bravery as they have shared their stories and engaged in the painful work of accountability,” said Mayor Miro Weinberger. “This work allows our community to memorialize, honor, and learn. I am grateful to them, and to all who have worked on this criminal investigation and restorative process to deliver a measure of overdue justice and resolution.”
“This investigation and subsequent process highlights yet another way that our systems detrimentally failed the very people they were designed to protect. Every survivor who chose to come forward, those who chose not to, and those who did not have the chance to, deserved better. They deserved to be safe, and when they were not, they deserved to be heard. I hope this process allows some sense of restoration and peace for every one of them,” said Chittenden County State’s Attorney Sarah George.
“We commend and honor the survivors,” said Col. Matthew T. Birmingham, director of the Vermont State Police. “The bravery you have shown not only by coming forward but that you have displayed throughout your lives is truly inspiring. We thank you for sharing your truth, and we hope that by doing so, you have helped prevent something like this from ever happening again.”
“Police exist to keep people safe, and we can never turn away from calls for help, nor from our neighbors telling us about their pain. Part of our role is assuming some of that burden on behalf of the people we’re sworn to protect. For me, one of the most salient moments in the many interviews we conducted came when a survivor stated ‘it felt good to be able to tell people what really happened.’ I am awed by the survivors, and the strength they have shown in coming forward, in grappling with old pain that often haunts them still. We owe them our belief, even when we cannot give them resolution through the law or the courts. We owe them the dignity of their truth, even when that truth can’t result in the outcomes we normally seek. Perhaps most importantly, we owe them a promise that we will do all we can to prevent anyone being harmed in the ways they describe again,” said Jon Murad, Acting Chief of the Burlington Police Department.
The Task Force wishes to acknowledge the former residents who suffered abuse at the Orphanage, both those who have shared their memories with the Task Force and those who have chosen not to: We hear you. We see you. We support you.
A copy of the St. Joseph’s Orphanage Task Force’s Report can be found on the Attorney General’s Office’s website in three parts: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. The report’s appendices are available in six parts: Appendices Part 1, Appendices Part 2, Appendices Part 3; Appendices Part 4, Appendices Part 5, and Appendices Part 6.