HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The extent of the Kamehameha Schools sex abuse scandal could have remained hidden from the public forever if it weren't for a 2012 law, which allowed victims to file lawsuits over child sex assaults – even if they happened decades earlier.
It was about that time that attorney and victim Emmett Lee Loy approached several of his classmates about suing Kamehameha Schools over the sex assaults committed over decades by a psychiatrist who served as a consultant for the school.
He said he thought that no more than three or four people would join the suit.
Thirty-four victims have since come forward.
And they tell similar stories, even 50 years later, about being driven by school employees to Dr. Robert Browne's office at St. Francis Hospital and being sexually assaulted on a weekly basis – often for years.
Over nearly three decades, from 1958 to 1985, Browne sexually abused boys at Kamehameha Schools, victims say and the school has acknowledged, and he made clear to them that they had to keep quiet about the assaults. In 1991, after being confronted by a victim, he committed suicide.
The victims are now preparing for a courtroom battle against Kamehameha Schools and the hospital next year. They say they're pursuing the lawsuit because they want accountability.
"You know what? I am going to stand up," said victim Gerald Carrell, who now lives in Seattle. "I am going to stand up because that's the way I was raised at the school I went to. First line of the school song: Be strong."
School never tried to contact victims
Founded by the 1883 will of Bernice Pauahi Bishop, Kamehameha Schools is the state's biggest private landowner and Hawaii's largest charitable trust – with assets exceeding $8 billion.
The victims, who first filed suit three years ago, say Kamehameha Schools failed to protect them and then covered up the years of sexual abuse, instead of trying to determine how many people Browne abused and whether they needed support.
"They failed to act, they failed to take proactive steps to identify these students," Lee Loy said.
The victims also say the school missed clear signs of Browne's behavior while he was abusing them. And the lawsuit mentions several examples of boys reporting abuse to school officials.
Also, shortly after Browne's suicide, Genesis Lee Loy wrote a letter to Kamehameha Schools President Michael Chun that alleged Browne had molested two of his sons.
Chun admitted in a video deposition last year that he believed boys were molested and he referred the case to the legal department. But that's where the investigation stopped. For 25 years, nothing was done.
"You didn't try to identify a single person that had been abused?" an attorney asked Chun, in the deposition.
"That's correct," Chun said, adding, "With respect to those who had already been injured, there was nothing further I could do in terms of protecting them."
After that important admission, it seemed to the 34 victims that the estate was approaching a settlement this summer. There was a lengthy mediation process in which the victims willingly told their stories to opposing attorneys, hospital and school officials and even trustees.
Those sessions — and other evidence — apparently convinced Kamehameha Schools to acknowledge in July that the abuse had in fact occurred.
Kamehameha Schools CEO Jack Wong said in a statement this week that "clearly, more could've been done for these students."
"We know what is expected of us, and I'm ensuring that we have practices and procedures in place to better protect our students."
ALSO IN OUR SERIES:
Part One: Kamehameha Schools sex abuse victims: 'Monster' stole our childhoods Part Two: Pledge to investigate Kamehameha Schools sex abuse went unfulfilled ALSO: Former trustees: 'Wall of secrecy' at Kamehameha Schools helped sex abuse stay hidden IN FULL: Kamehameha Schools issues statement on sex abuse scandal
Victims: We're in it for the long haul
But at the same time, Kamehameha Schools and St. Francis, which is guided by insurance company attorneys, are playing hardball.
They are asking for two more years to investigate the men's claims.
They plan at least 340 depositions, putting under oath for questioning the victims, their spouses, children, co-workers and friends. Some victims see it as a tactic to break their resolve.
"What's the word I was looking for – diabolical almost in their scheming," Carrell said. "They totally have the attitude that in time this will all go away. In time these guys will get tired and in time these guys will just give up because they don't have the resources or the power or the name recognition of the school."
Kamehameha Schools and St. Francis attorneys say the depositions are necessary to determine the truth of the claims and the extent of the victims' suffering.
But legal experts say similar large sex abuse cases have handled that by having independent experts do the interviews.
"Having depositions that are being conducted by representatives who are representing the organizations that perpetrated these incidents is probably the least healthy thing," attorney Chris Bouslog said.
'Great harm inflicted on families'
Meanwhile, Kamehameha Schools also is blaming St. Francis — where Browne was chief of psychiatry — for failing to supervise him. Kamehameha argues that his position at the hospital was one reason he was trusted with students.
"There is no evidence that the alleged abuser — Dr. Browne — was ever a KS employee," Kamehameha Schools said, in court documents. "Indeed, he was — in true Jekyll and Hyde fashion — a well-respected community leader who was employed by one of Hawaii's best hospitals."
Far from being discouraged by all the legal wrangling, victims and families seem even more intent on public accountability for the institutions.
"Kamehameha Schools fighting these victims tooth and nail, trying to prevent them from telling their story, is one of the important reasons why a settlement with the confidentiality of what happened is unacceptable," said Dr. Lambert Lee Loy, who was also victimized by Browne.
Added Carrell: "My grandson is now 5 years old he is eligible for Kamehameha Schools, but do you think I would even consider sending him? I don't think so."
Emmett Lee Loy told Hawaii News Now he was initially reluctant to file a lawsuit "and open this old wound."
"Then," he said, "I had to think about it. It really hit me when I thought about all this great harm that they inflicted on the families."