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Bethel sex abuse case: Stepdaughter tells of assaults, sisters' suicides in 40-year saga

Eli Martin
Kimberley Hahn Bruesch, right, with her sisters Robin, left, and Teresa, center. Bruesch claims all three of them were sexually assaulted by Bruesch's stepfather, Peter Tony. Robin and Teresa commit suicide as adults, in 1990 and 1998 respectively.
Photo courtesy Kimberley Hahn Bruesch
Marilyn and Peter Tony, 1994.
Courtesy Kimberley Bruesch
Robin, Kimberley, and Teresa Jones as children. Robin and Teresa committed suicide after allegedly being assaulted by their stepfather, Bethel sex-abuse suspect Peter Tony.
Courtesy Kimberley Bruesch
Peter Tony, 69, a former foster care parent in Bethel, is accused of abusing a 4-year-old girl as well as others, including his three stepdaughters, over many years. He was charged in June 2013.
Photo courtesy Kimberley Hahn Bruesch
Kimberley Hahn Bruesch, 48, of Ketchikan, and her mother Marilyn Tony. Bruesch alleges that her stepfather Peter Tony, 69, sexually abused her and her sisters when they were kids. Tony was charged in Bethel in June 2013 with sexually abusing a 4-year-old left in his care.
Photo courtesy Kimberley Hahn Bruesch

When 69-year-old Peter Tony was charged this week with sexually abusing a 4-year-old girl in the rural Alaska town of Bethel, investigators revealed they were looking into abuse allegations stretching back to the 1970s. One of those alleged victims from decades ago was Tony’s stepdaughter.

Kimberley Hahn Bruesch, 48, accuses Tony of sexually assaulting her and two sisters when they were kids. Her sisters never healed from the abuse, with both committing suicide as adults in the 1990s, according to Bruesch, who spoke with Alaska Dispatch this week.

“I hope that I can inspire at least one other person to come forward," said Bruesch of why she chose to tell her story. “It’s very important to expose the failings in the system."

Bethel Police say Tony has confessed to assaulting a 4-year-old and other children in his foster care over the years, but investigators have not said whether he has admitted to abusing his stepdaughters. He is being held in a Bethel jail on $100,000 bail. On Thursday, he was in the process of being assigned a public defender, with a pretrial court hearing scheduled for Aug. 15.

Bruesch says the abuse she and her sisters suffered years ago marked the start of a long series of assaults committed by Tony while he was a foster parent until the late 1990s. She claims she first reported Tony to foster care officials in 1982, but nothing ever happened.

Two years later, the state issued Tony and his wife a foster care license, which they held until 1998, when according to Bethel police they were removed from the program.

“It seems like a cover-up to me," Bruesch says. State foster care workers "didn’t want their mistakes to be publicized.”

Christy Lawton, director of the Alaska Office of Children’s Services, rejects Bruesch's allegations.

“That definitely would be way outside anything remotely acceptable, and I would be shocked to find that to be true,” Lawton says. It would have been a “matter of course” to refer reports of criminal behavior by a foster parent to law enforcement.

She will not comment on Tony’s past as a foster parent until she has access to the records of his case. The retrieval of those records was expedited Thursday as reporters asked for the documents to be released.

'Could you never mention it again?'

Bruesch was born in 1965 in Virginia, thousands of miles from Bethel, the largest town in Western Alaska and a hub for the dozens of Yup'ik Eskimo villages that populate the region.

When she was a child, her mother Marilyn Tony began dating Peter Tony. He had grown up in the village of Marshall in the Bethel area, and the two first met in Anchorage when he was serving in the Navy. They, along with Bruesch, eventually moved to San Diego for his work and married when she was 5.

It was in San Diego at 1644 Guadalcanal Rd. -- an address at a Naval facility -- that Bruesch alleges her stepfather began to abuse her. The year was 1973. She was 8 years old. Tony was 29, she says.

At the time, Bruesch thought she was the only one in her family who had been molested, but she later heard from her two sisters that they, too, suffered Tony's abuse. She believes Tony sexually abused her older sister, Robin, before he touched her. After her stepfather abused Bruesch, she thinks he then molested her younger sister, Teresa.

It took Bruesch years to tell anyone about what happened to her. She first spoke to her mother about Tony's assaults when she was 15. By this time the family was living in Bethel, where they moved from San Diego in 1977.

Marilyn Tony was shocked by her daughter’s revelations, Bruesch recalls, and confronted her husband. Peter Tony denied the allegations at the time, Bruesch says. The household was left with her word against his, and soon afterward Bruesch dropped out of high school and left home “to get away from him,” she says, adding that her sisters did the same.

Asked whether her mother ever believed her allegations against her husband, Bruesch says, “It was a reality that sunk in very slowly for her.”

Bruesch thinks her mother was herself a victim of sexual abuse as a child, and that experience probably contributed to her difficulty in fully acknowledging her husband’s behavior.

In 1982, Bruesch claims she brought her allegations to the Alaska Division of Family and Youth Services, but nobody believed her. Bruesch says the social worker who interviewed her at the time was Mary S. Atchak (then Abruska). Atchak still lives in Bethel, but due to an illness she is unable to speak, her husband Peter Atchak said Thursday.

Bruesch maintains Marilyn Tony was a loving mother and foster parent. She was also devoted to her husband, and lived much of her life in denial of his suspected crimes.

When she became ill last summer, Bruesch returned to Bethel to help the Tonys sell their home.

Around this time, her stepfather’s past resurfaced after a long period of silence. Bruesch said her mother told her, “Kimberley, I know he sexually abused you. Can you never mention it again?”

On June 2, Marilyn Tony died after a long period of not feeling well and major heart surgery six months earlier.

Two days later, Peter Tony was served with a restraining order against approaching the 4-year old girl he allegedly abused. And on June 13, he was arrested.

'Why didn’t someone connect the dots?'

Bruesch remained scarred by her childhood experiences for years, and her early adult life characterized some of the trademark responses to child sexual assault by victims, including an abusive relationship that lasted years.

Today, Bruesch lives in Ketchikan where she works as a tour guide in the Tongass National Forest. She has her own stable family life and regards herself as healed from the trauma of her childhood.

Her sisters never made it there. Bruesch’s older sister, Robin, took her own life in 1990. Teresa followed in 1998.

Teresa died on April 14, 1998. In her suicide note, she wrote: “I just told (my daughter) about what my Dad did to me. She’ll know now why I did what I did."

“Even as an adult my father has found a way to destroy me,” she said later in the note.

When she died, Teresa left behind three young children; Robin left two.

The day after Teresa’s suicide, Bruesch says her mother told her that authorities removed all of the foster children from the Tonys’ home in Bethel. But this cannot be verified.

Regardless, what is known is the state revoked Peter Tony’s foster parent license in 1998 and a Bethel Police affidavit this month states that reports of abuse were “substantiated” at the time he lost his license 15 years ago, including a complaint from one alleged victim in 1997.

Tony, however, would never be charged with a crime -- until now.

“Why didn’t someone connect the dots?" Bruesch says. "The ones who are supposed to protect children, when my sisters and I first reported it to them, why wasn’t it reported to police?”

Contact Eli Martin at eli(at)alaskadispatch.com