Sunday, April 22, 2018
Public safety

Details emerge in suicide of Hernando school volunteer accused of sexual abuse

A former Brooksville school volunteer accused of sexually assaulting teenage foreign exchange students who were under his care was found dead last week, a day before he was due in court on the charges.

The body of Bruce McAllister was found at the base of a parking garage in West Palm Beach on Nov. 15, police said. West Palm Beach police Sgt. David LaFont said McAllister, who was identified from his driver’s license, "appears to have jumped from the parking garage and died."

Still, Brooksville police Chief George Turner says the investigation of McAllister’s actions will continue.

"This is the end of him, but not the end of anyone else who may have been involved," he said, adding that investigators identified another victim as recently as a few weeks ago and expect to find more. "As more victims turn up, we will get statements from them and we will see if anyone else had knowledge of the abuse."

McAllister, 68, was arrested in April on five counts of sexual assault and 27 counts of misdemeanor battery. Police said he sexually assaulted at least two 17-year-old European exchange students attending Hernando Christian Academy, where his wife, Cathy McAllister, was the principal.

The school’s attorney, Deborah Hogan, has previously said that Bruce McAllister was "a volunteer assisting in the physical therapy training of athletes." Police have said McAllister told the teens he was an expert in sports medicine and used promises of football fame when he "courted and molested" them.

The teens previously lived with the McAllisters at their former home on Cappleman Loop in Brooksville, and police have said the couple hosted exchange students for years. The assaults took place from September 2016 to February 2017, according to police.

Turner said investigators have confirmed that Cathy McAllister was inside the residence when the abuse took place, but they are still trying to determine if she had knowledge that it was going on. In her "first and only" interview with police at the time of her husband’s arrest, Cathy McAllister denied any involvement in the abuse, Turner said. She faces no charges, but has hired an attorney.

Court records show McAllister faced charges of battery and sexual battery of a child under 18. Assistant State Attorney Erin Daly, the prosecutor for the case, said the court date scheduled for the day after his death was more of a clerical meeting between herself and McAllister’s attorney.

"Nothing would have happened," she said. "It was just a status conference to see how far we had progressed in the prep for trial."

Turner said he was unsure whether the McAllisters had been living in West Palm Beach but said the couple left Brooksville to live on "the east coast of Florida somewhere" once McAllister was released from Hernando County Jail in early May after posting a $77,000 bond.

A report by the Vero Beach Police Department shows McAllister made an attempt at suicide on June 4, when he was found bleeding heavily from his wrists and neck, walking along the beach.

When an officer questioned him, he opened his left hand to reveal razor blades and "stated that the things they said about him weren’t true" and "that it didn’t matter anymore," according to the report. McAllister was transported to a hospital, where he underwent surgery and was later placed into custody under the Baker Act, a law allowing for the involuntary commitment of people believed to be a harm to themselves or others.

At the parking garage where he died, McAllister left behind a van, which local police are in the process of searching, Turner said. If anything relevant to the sexual abuse investigation is found, those officers will inform Brooksville police, and if not, the van will be released to Cathy McAllister, he said.

Turner would not say how many victims have been identified thus far but said "we believe there is a lot." He said investigators are working with the foreign exchange companies the teens came through so they can conduct interviews with each student that lived with the McAllisters. Because they have returned to their home countries, Brooksville police are being assisted by the FBI with interviews.

"We want to make sure we have all the loose ends tied up," Turner said. "We want to make sure that we can identify victims so they get the help that they need... and make sure that all the perpetrators are brought to justice."

Staff writer Barbara Behrendt contributed to this report. Megan Reeves at [email protected] Follow @mareevs. Contact TyLisa C. Johnson at [email protected] Follow @tylisajohnson.

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