DURHAM — A former teacher accused of sexual abuse decades ago at Carolina Friends School has committed suicide, the school said in an email Monday to alumni, parents and staff.
The former teacher, Charles William “Bill” Butcher, 71, died Thursday in West Jefferson. His death came a day after the school emailed a letter naming Butcher and a former principal who were suspects but not criminally charged.
Five former students, all male, had alleged that they were fondled by a former principal during a six-year period from 1969 to 1975. One of the five also said he was inappropriately touched by a former teacher, identified as Butcher, in 1976. The allegations were reported by former students in the fall of 2012.
The school had hired child and sexual abuse experts and reported the allegations to law enforcement in Orange County, where the school is located. The actions would have been misdemeanors and thus could not have been prosecuted decades later, the school had said.
Since last week’s mass email, the school has heard from four or five other former students who said they, too, were victims, as well as a couple of people who reported concerns on behalf of others, said current Principal Mike Hanas.
The case remains open, even though no charges have been filed.
“We know that the effects of such abuse are far-reaching,” said Monday’s letter, signed by Hanas. “We are mindful of Bill’s expression of deep remorse and desire to contribute to healing. We are sorry for the loss of opportunity for our community and for him to pursue some measure of restorative justice.”
Hanas said he had communicated with Butcher on June 6 and 7, to inform him that the school would be disclosing his name and explaining the situation.
“We did not take that decision lightly at all,” Hanas said. “We chose to err on the side of putting our students, our past students, ahead of competing interests.”
School officials spoke with Butcher’s closest surviving relative, his niece, who said she had been unaware of the situation at Carolina Friends. She conveyed her deep sorrow for those who may have been harmed, the school said.
Similar regret was expressed in an online obituary posted on the website of Hampton Funeral Service in Boone. “A quote from Henry David Thoreau describes Bill’s life philosophy: ‘I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach ...,’ the obituary said. “In the course of his life, Bill helped a great many people, but he also hurt some of the very ones he was helping. To those who have been injured, Bill would have wanted you to know of his deep remorse to his last breath.”
Reached last week by The News & Observer, Butcher did not want to comment on the allegations, saying he wasn’t sure what was going on.
A private memorial will be held for Butcher. Former students and friends posted remembrances of Butcher on the funeral home’s website. One called Butcher an anchor and spiritual mentor who guided him through a turbulent time of his life.
Carolina Friends, a Quaker school, offered counseling support and resources on its website.
“We will continue to hold in the light Bill’s family and friends and all those affected by the terrible events of 40 years ago,” Monday’s letter said.