Survivor’s Story: Jehovah Witness Watchtower Society — Safe Haven for Sexual Predators
2019 Update: The Atlantic reported that the Kingdom Hall kept a secret journal of pedophiles and child offenders that was concealed from the public and law enforcement. Victims’ parents were encouraged by elders not to press charges.
Some things happen and in order to be “normal” and function in society, you bury them deep inside. To think on them could cause you to spiral out of control. Then you witness a public event that resurfaces your worst nightmare, causing a flood of emotions to bubble to surface demanding to be addressed. For our survivor, that event was watching Dr. Christine Blasey Ford testify in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee regarding Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. She watched as male senators suggested that Dr. Ford’s memory was wrong and failed her to the point that she accused the wrong man of assaulting her. The floodgates broke when NBC news reported that the “Jehovah’s Witnesses must pay $35 million to a woman who says the church’s national organization ordered Montana clergy members not to report her sexual abuse as a child at the hands of a congregation member, a jury ruled in a verdict.” Twenty-four years after being the nameless 14 year old girl who had sex with Michigan State Trooper, Derek A. Peete Sr., our survivor, Omowale Amoin, has come forward. For months, Derek groomed her while she was just 12 years old before the actual sexual assault happened at age 13. His wife walked in on the initial encounter. The Kingdom Hall openly condemned her from the pulpit in the front of the congregation for having improper relations with Derek, a pioneer of the congregation. The Watchtower Society discouraged her parents from pressing charges because to do so would defame and blaspheme the name of Jehovah. She was 14 years old when the criminal case went to trial. Although Michigan recently amended its statute of limitations for sexual assault victims to pursue a civil action, it does not cover the timeframe of her abuse preventing her from pursuing civil damages. However, in telling her story, she hopes it will help others.
Although much attention is given to “stranger danger,” 90% of child sex abusers are known to the victim. Therefore, it is important to understand the nature of the grooming dynamic in child sexual abuse. The National Center for Victims of Crimes describes grooming as follows:
“Perpetrators of child sexual abuse (CSA) may gain the trust of potential child victims and their caregivers by methodically “grooming” them. This process begins with identifying potential victims, gaining their trust, and breaking down their defenses. These grooming tactics are often directed at potential youth victims as well as the adult caregivers — parents, other youth-serving professionals, and the community-at-large. After gaining access to children and youth by achieving this trust, the perpetrator initiates some kind of contact that s/he finds sexually gratifying. This sexual contact may range from voyeurism to rape and other forms of child sexual abuse. Grooming helps the offender gain access to the victim and sets up a relationship grounded in secrecy so that the crime is less likely to be discovered. Perpetrators of child sexual abuse are often individuals known to the family; they may be acquaintances, influential members of the community, trusted friends and even family members. Sometimes the offender is known to the family through association with an organization or activity in which the child or youth participates, such as school, a community club, sports team, recreation center or camp.”
- Stage 1: Identifying and targeting the victim. Some predators may be attracted to children and youth with certain characteristics or may target youth with certain co-existing factors — such as vulnerable parents — to facilitate the crime.
- Stage 2: Gaining trust and access. Perpetrators may offer the victims special attention, understanding and a sympathetic ear, and then engage the child in ways that eventually gain their friendship and trust.
- Stage 3: Playing a role in the child’s life. The perpetrator may manipulate the relationship so that it appears he or she is the only one who fully understands the child or meets the child’s needs in a particular way.
- Stage 4: Isolating the child. Offering the child rides and/or taking the child out of his or her surroundings is one way that the perpetrator may separate the child from others and gain access to the child alone, so that others cannot witness the abuse.
- Stage 5: Creating secrecy around the relationship. The perpetrator may reinforce the special connection with the victim when they are alone or through private communication with the victim (such as letters, emails or text messages), and strengthen it with admonitions against telling anyone, lest others be unhappy about it. The perpetrator may threaten the victim with disclosure, suicide, physical harm to the child or loved ones, or other traumas if he or she tells.
- Stage 6: Initiating sexual contact. With the power over the child victim established through emotional connection coercion or one of the other tactics, the perpetrator may eventually initiate physical contact with the victim. It may begin with touching that is not overtly sexual (though a predator may find it sexually gratifying) and that may appear to be casual (arm around the shoulder, pat on the knee, etc.). Gradually, the perpetrator may introduce more sexualized touching. By breaking down inhibitions and desensitizing the child, the perpetrator can begin overtly touching the child.
- Stage 7: Controlling the relationship. Perpetrators rely on the secrecy of the relationship to keep it going, and to ensure that the child will not reveal the abuse. Children are often afraid of disclosing the abuse. They may have been told that they will not be believed, or that something about the child “makes” the abuser do this to them. The child may also feel shame, or fear that they will be blamed. Often, the perpetrator threatens the child to ensure that s/he won’t disclose the abuse.
It was 1992 and her parents’ marriage was on rocky ground again. They had separated before, but this was enough. Her mother relocated with Omowale and her younger brother to Cassopolis Michigan where they spent summers caring for their great aunt who had recently passed. Shortly after they relocated, Dad arrived wanting to reconcile. As many couples do, they return to religion to save the marriage. Dad had introduced mom to the Watchtower Society earlier in the marriage when they had a rough patch. They joined the Cassopolis Jehovah Witnesses Kingdom Hall — a predominantly white congregation with only a couple black families, but they were welcoming. Although mom attended faithfully and frequently, Dad rarely attended. The marriage reconciliation was a disaster. The arguing was incessant, and mom was looking for an exit plan, maybe leave Michigan and return to Europe with the kids. In the middle of this, mom (a leather designer) had an opportunity to train in Paris. Dad didn’t want her to take the kids with her like she did previously in Sweden. Maybe send Omowale and her brother to their older sisters in New York. Before Dad and mom married, they each had a daughter who now were adults with children of their own. Mom had enough. “It’s your turn to parent!” Dad would stay in Michigan with Omowale and her brother while mom explored her options in Paris. Mom left for Paris in March 1992. Before leaving mom instructed 12 year old Omowale to look after her younger brother and even though her father would not make them go to the Kingdom Hall, they should still attend weekly to serve God. Mom left a schedule for cooking, managing the house and bed times. Because they were homeschooled it made it easier. Unfortunately, what was supposed to be a few weeks in Paris turned into months. Dad was working multiple jobs — a day shift and second shift and sometimes picking up a graveyard shift not getting home until well after dark. Omowale and her brother were quintessential “latchkey” kids.
However, Omowale dutifully followed her mother’s instructions. She loved her mom and wanted to make her proud. She would wake to fix breakfast for her brother. She grocery shopped and did laundry. After breakfast and chores, they would walk to the Kingdom Hall for field services to “witness” in the community keeping her promise to her mother. Omowale enjoyed field service. The concept of earning points for time put in appealed to her competitive side. If other children attended they had someone to play with and it gave them something to do outside the house. After field service, a member of the congregation would drive them home. Omowale would prepare dinner and send her brother to bed at the time her mother indicated on the schedule. On days when Dad worked more than 16 hours, she would stay up at the kitchen table waiting for him to come home. As the weeks turn into months, a 12-year-old Omowale became caretaker of her brother and manager of her family’s home. Instead of being treated like a child, Dad treated her as a responsible adult, almost peer.
Stage 1: Identifying and targeting the victim (vulnerable parents with failing marriage).
In the summer of 1992, another black family joined the Kingdom Hall. Derek was a state trooper. His wife, Patricia (Patty), was sweet, petite and pretty. They had a daughter a year or so younger than Omowale and a set of cute twins around the same age as Omowale’s younger brother. This was great. Not long after arriving, Derek became a full-time pioneer of the congregation. When Omowale and her brother arrived at the Kingdom Hall for field service, Derek Patty and the kids were there. They did field service with them and it wasn’t long before Derek and Patty started dropping Omowale and her brother home after field service. When Derek and Patty realized that Omowale’s father wasn’t home, they offered Omowale and her brother to hang out at their house and have dinner with them. Within days, Derek and Patty introduced themselves to Dad and he agreed to allow them to pick up Omowale and her brother while he was working. On days when Dad worked the graveyard shift, Patty insisted that Omowale and her brother sleepover their house, so they wouldn’t be left alone. It was like Omowale and her brother had a family again. When they slept over Derek and Patty’s house, they would watch movies, run errands in the car, and eat meals like a family with their kids. Although mom and Dad’s marriage was falling apart, Omowale found a new family in Derek and Patty. She confided in Derek and Patty about problems at home with her mom and Dad and why she had taken on the role of caretaker and homemaker. They encouraged her to call anytime and they would bring her and her brother over.
Stage 2: Gaining trust and access (special attention, sympathetic ear).
Because Patty homeschooled the girls, she only did field service part-time. However, as a full-time pioneer, Derek did field service every day. Omowale faithfully went to field service even when her brother stayed at Patty’s to play with their daughters. It happened that Omowale spent a lot of time alone with Derek as they drove home from field service. On these occasions, he would tell Omowale that he understood her. He noticed that she was different from other girls her age. She was special and mature, more like an adult. When she turned 18 she could be emancipated, just bide her time and be obedient to her parents. He said, “It’s not that your parents are bad people, they just don’t deserve to be parents.” Derek was understanding. By the end of summer, Omowale had stopped hanging out with friends her own age even at the Kingdom Hall and was spending more time at Derek and Patty’s house, even more alone with Derek on field service days.
Although mom wanted to relocate Omowale and her brother to Paris, she couldn’t work out visas. She returned in October, a month before Omowale’s 13th birthday and set up her leather shop initially in their Victorian home and later in a shop in town. All Omowale talked about was Derek and Patty. It wasn’t long before mom met Derek and Patty. Mom liked them, and she hit it off with Patty. Derek, Patty and their girls would come over regularly for dinners. Mom also liked Derek. He was a great listener and would often talk to mom alone as she bemoaned the falling marriage. Mom returned from Paris different, like she no longer wanted to salvage the marriage. The arguments with Dad increased in frequency and although she wanted to leave, she didn’t have the means to get away. Dad worked extra hours to avoid being at home but that did not stop the fighting. No attempt was made to conceal the marital tension.
Stage 3: Playing a role in the child’s life (only one who fully understands child).
Another shift occurred upon mom’s return, the mother-daughter dynamic. Before her mother left, Omowale admired and had a good relationship with her mother. During mom’s absence, Dad gave Omowale the freedom of an adult. With mom’s return, she wanted Omowale to revert to daughter-child role while she took over as mother and homemaker. Unfortunately, after 7 months of being treated like an adult, Omowale was not about to return to child status especially now that so was hitting puberty and her teens. Derek would talk to mom alone about the new friction with her and Omowale. He volunteered to pick up Omowale to take her to Kingdom Hall for field service to ease some of the tension at home. He also suggested that Omowale come to his home to teach his daughters bible study.
Stage 4: Isolating the child (offering rides).
As Omowale spent more time alone with Derek during field service and errands to the store, the nature of the conversation advanced. Omowale complained about being chubby. Derek told her that she was perfect and beautiful and that she should not worry about losing a single pound. He reassured Omowale about her body and praised her on how mature she was and much of a woman she was. He told her that it was because of this that she and her mom were fighting. He confided in Omowale that he and Patty were having problems and he knew Omowale would be a better mother to his girls than Patty. When Omowale turned 18, he would marry her because he loved her. Now when Omowale and her brother would sleep over, instead of the group of kids going on errands, he would only take Omowale saying, “We gotta make a run, just me and Omowale.” He would take her to the mall and movies alone. He would reassure her that she was special, touching her shoulders or patting her back. He even took Omowale to trials he had to testify in because she mentioned when she grew up she wanted to be a lawyer like Claire Huxtable in the Cosby Show. He told her how to dress like a professional for his trial appearances. On one trial visit, they sat in the back of the courtroom waiting and Derek grabbed Omowale’s hand. She asked if anything was wrong and he said that he wasn’t nervous because she was with him.
By fall 1993, Omowale’s relationship with her mom deteriorated, so too did her parents’ marriage. As her mom tried to re-establish herself as the parental authority, Dad would side with Omowale to anger her mom. In the midst of the chaos at home, Derek became Omowale’s counselor and father figure. Omowale, now 13, was defiant about relinquishing the freedom she experienced while her mom was gone. Omowale’s mom confided in Patty, Derek’s wife, about her struggle to get Omowale in line. Patty assured her mom that it was likely teen angst coupled with the dysfunction of the marriage on the family. Unfortunately, Omowale and her mom were arguing as much as her mom and Dad. When one argument with her mom almost became physical, Omowale exclaimed, “I’m going to Derek’s.” Derek and Patty offered to have Omowale stay with them temporarily to give Omowale and her mom a break to ease the tension.
Stage 6: Initiating sexual contact (touching not overtly sexual gradually becomes sexual).
Derek and Patty picked up Omowale and brought her brother too. One night, they all gathered in the living room with blankets and popcorn. Omowale and her brother on one couch. Derek laid on the floor in front of them with one of the twins resting on his back. The other daughters sat in the middle of the floor with blankets while Patty was on the couch opposite. When the movie was over, Patty stood up and announced it was time to get ready for bed. All of the kids, including Omowale’s brother walked down the hall to prepare for bed. Still emotional over the fight with her mom, Omowale had been crying. Derek asked how was she feeling? Earlier, Derek and Patty had both consoled and hugged her, but Derek was always the more affectionate of the two even with their own kids. He was a cuddler, very playful like a teddy bear. Derek told her she just needed to relax. He jumped off the floor and hopped on the couch, straddling Omowale’s lap. He started rocking his hips. Omowale was startled. Derek previously bragged to her parents that he knew how to hypnotize people from his training as a state trooper. Omowale was afraid he would hypnotize her. The Witnesses considered it like entertaining dark spirits and against the faith. She didn’t want to be hypnotized. He told her, “It’s okay. Relax. Just put your arms around me. I’m going to help you relax.” He leaned forward and kissed her forehead. He tells her to how to do breathing exercises. Omowale could hear his girls and her brother chatting in the bedroom. She wanted to be there, with them. Why didn’t she leave when they all got up for bed? She stiffened like a board. She looked up and Patty was standing in the living room watching. Derek jumped up. Patty ran into the bedroom and slammed the door. Derek said, “Don’t worry about her. Get ready for bed.” Omowale ran in the room with her brother and the girls.
The following morning was Sunday. Patty cooked breakfast like normal, but they did not go to Sunday service at Kingdom Hall. Patty had called Dad and mom. They happened to go to services. Patty left a message on the answering machine that they needed to come and get Omowale and the brother because something unhealthy was going on with Omowale and Derek. That afternoon mom and Dad came to pick up Omowale and her brother. When they arrived home, mom approached Omowale and asked if anything inappropriate happened. Had Derek been inappropriate? Out of fear Omowale said no. Her mother said that Omowale was banned from speaking and talking to Derek. Omowale knew it was bad. She was anxious and fearful. She didn’t want to be home with her mother. The reason why she was at Derek and Patty’s house was because of their almost physical fight. Mom and Dad sent her there for a break. Derek was the only person that understood her. They let him be alone with her in the past because all the adults agreed he understood Omowale best. Now they were taking him away from her.
A few days later, mom took Omowale with her for Thursday night service at the Kingdom Hall. As they walked in the hall, mom told Omowale, “Don’t even look at him.” As soon as Derek entered the hall, Omowale ran towards him. Mom ran after Omowale. Patty, who arrived separately with the girls, became upset. She walked out the hall with the girls and drove off. Later that evening, Patty called mom and told her that she was separating from Derek. He was going back to Flint where they used to live, and she would stay in Cassopolis.
Days later, Patty called mom in the middle of the night saying that someone set the trailer on fire while she and the girls were sleeping. She was calling to see if they could stay with mom and Dad for the night. Patty and the girls came that night. Patty sat at the kitchen table and confided in Omowale’s mom that she thought Derek started the fire. She thought she saw him run towards the woods as she and the girls ran out of the burning trailer. The next day, Derek called the house to talk to Patty, but Omowale answered. He told Omowale, “Be quiet. Don’t say anything. I promise to let you know where I am. Everything will be okay.” Mom asked who was on the phone and picked up the other phone. When mom realized it was Derek, she yelled to Omowale to hang up the phone. “You’re not talking to him.” Mom gave the phone to Patty. Later while no one was watching, Omowale either dialed *69 or called the operator to get the last number dialed to get Derek’s number. That night while everyone was sleeping around midnight, Omowale snuck out of the house and walked to the payphone by the post office near their house. She called Derek. He was incredibly reassuring saying that “we’re going to be together no matter” and gave Omowale his pager number. A few days later, Patty and the girls left mom and Dad’s house and moved to a town nearby.
For a couple of months, Omowale regularly snuck out of her parents’ home usually around midnight to go to the payphone to talk to Derek. Now the conversations became sexual in nature. Derek would say that he was certain that sex with Omowale would be better than anyone he’d ever been with because she was amazingly loving and mature with a warm personality. He always reassured her that she was special. During one of their conversations, he told her pregnancy was not an issue because he had a vasectomy. He planned to come to Cassopolis to visit her. It was a few days before Omowale’s 14th birthday.
FIRST SEXUAL ENCOUNTER
A few days later, Derek drove from Flint to Cassopolis. He parked his van in the church parking lot across the street from her parents’ house and waited for her. The parking lot was behind the church. Omowale snuck out at midnight and met him in the parking lot. It was an old van where you could not see in the back. They drove around for a while, eventually pulling over in a secluded area on the side of a dark dirt road. He left the van running because it was cold outside. That was the first time he had sex with her. Afterwards, they laid in the van for a long time and he said, “I told you. I knew I was right. You are going to be better than Patty.” He further assured her that he would take care of her. Then the chief of police approached the running van. Cassopolis was a small town and there was one cop, Frankie. Frankie and all of the town knew Derek was a state trooper. Derek instructed Omowale to lay in the back of the van. As Frankie came to the window, Derek greeted Frankie and told him that he had just pulled over to check something with the car. He would be leaving soon. Frankie drove off. Afterwards, Derek drove Omowale in front of her house and left.
FIRST RUNAWAY DECEMBER 1993
For weeks, Omowale continued sneaking out at midnight to talk to Derek on the phone. Not only were her parents fighting all the time, but at this point, her relationship with her mother became extremely contentious. They too were fighting all the time. After one bad argument, Omowale told Derek that she was leaving home because she couldn’t take it. Derek said, “I want you to be with me. Your parents are horrible, and they are destroying and ruining you.” It was then that a date was set for him to come to Cassopolis to take Omowale to Flint with him. He told her that she would be a labeled missing person and then they could go off and be together. For days, Omowale packed her clothes, shoes, and knick-knacks a 14-year-old attaches value to in an old military duffle bag her family used when traveling. The night before Derek picked her up, she put the duffle bag under the porch. The following night at midnight, the designated pickup time, Derek came. They drove for a while then he said he was tired from driving the three hours from Flint and they needed to stop. He checked them into a motel off the highway. From that night forward, sex became a regular occurrence.
Stage 7: Controlling the relationship.
They arrived in Flint in the day time, but they entered the house from the rear. The house had been boarded up since he and Patty had moved to Cassopolis. The inside looked like squatters lived there. When they arrived, Derek gave Omowale strict instructions. Do not call anyone. He explained how phone tracing worked and how long before the police would be able to locate her from the phone call. Do not answer the house phone. Stay away from the windows (most were still boarded). Always enter and exit from the back of the house. He taught her how to use a .45 gun. He had Omowale practice loading and unloading the clip and removing the safety. He told her that if anyone but him came in the house to shoot. He would often go out during the day. She was trapped in the house until night. When he returned, he took her to the movies. He explained they couldn’t eat around the neighborhood because people were looking for her. Within days her parents, older sister in New York and the cops were calling the house. The cops even came by the house several times, but never came inside. Omowale would hide upstairs while Derek talked to the cops, some from the precinct he was assigned. Omowale could hear the cops ask: “Do you know where she is?” Derek would say “Absolutely not. I don’t know.” Then he would tell them about Omowale’s problems at home with her parents falling marriage and her fights with her mom. Eventually the cops would leave assuming she was a regular runaway.
On one outing, Derek introduced Omowale to another woman — a “really dear friend.” He said she was a therapist or social worker. They went to her house and Derek described Omowale to the woman as a “troubled kid that wouldn’t stop running away.” The woman had two daughters, one Omowale’s age. Derek convinced the woman to take Omowale out when he was not home. The woman would take Omowale out to eat or shopping, sometimes her daughters would be with them. Besides Derek, these were the only times Omowale left the house in Flint. Omowale begin to think the woman was more than a friend to Derek because of the way she talked about Derek on their trips.
KINGDOM HALL UNRESPONSIVE
Omowale’s parents were always calling Derek’s house and leaving messages. On one occasion Derek answered the phone when Omowale’s mom called and put it on speaker, so she could hear. Derek was smooth as usual. He told Omowale’s mom, “I need you to calm down. She’ll come back. This is a result of what I was trying to tell you guys before.” Omowale’s mom was livid yelling, “Don’t pull that hypnotist bullshit on me. We know you have her!” While Omowale was gone, her mom went to their Kingdom Hall and told the elders what Derek had done. When she received no action from them, she contacted the circuit overseer, district overseer, and Watchtower Society. Finally, they sent a circuit or district overseer to talk to Omowale’s mom. Her mom asked the overseer if the Society knew about Derek. The overseer said that they were aware because he had abruptly left his previous Kingdom Hall. However, when he moved to Cassopolis his membership card did not travel with him. The overseer said there was nothing they could do. The Society would continue to pray for Omowale’s safety and return. They encouraged Omowale’s mom not to press charges because it would cause defamation and public reproach to Jehovah’s name. Derek would be stripped of privileges and disfellowshipped from the Society.
Although Derek never felt threatened by Omowale’s parents, her older sister in New York rattled him. She called every twenty minutes leaving messages. After about a week, Derek decided to answer Omowale’s sister. He did not put it on speaker but took the call downstairs. Omowale recalls it was afternoon. After speaking to Omowale’s sister in New York, Derek came upstairs and said, “We have a fucking problem! Who is your sister and who are the people she knows?” Omowale’s sister had told Derek that she “wasn’t waiting for the fucking police, I’m coming for your ass and getting my sister.” Omowale’s New York sister was resourceful and found Derek’s personal information even about his previous relationships. She had his address. She used her street knowledge and friends to assemble some NYC guys to drive to Flint to handle the situation. This threw Derek off his guard. Derek told Omowale, “This isn’t gonna work.” By now, Omowale had been in Flint for at least a week.
Derek decided they needed to concoct a plan to send her back, so he would be the hero bringing the runaway home. Omowale was hysterical yelling, “No, I don’t want to go back.” He reassured her they would still be together in the end, but it was necessary. That night he told her the plan and begin to coach her on what to say. He was going to take her to his precinct. He coached her to say that she ran away from home because of her home life and came to his house because she knew she’d be safe. They had to come up with how she arrived at Flint because she could not say he picked her up and drove her here. Because she had been in Flint for about a week, they needed to account for that time. He took out a map to look at bus and train schedules to Flint. They could not say the bus because that would mean she was in Flint when he told the cops she wasn’t there. There was no direct train service from Cassopolis to Flint. That worked. He told her to say that she hitch-hiked from Cassopolis, Michigan to South Bend, Indiana. In South Bend, she took the Metra South Shore Line to Chicago. From Chicago, she took the Amtrak to Flint. That would cover the timeframe. He gave her cash and a pager and told her to keep it hidden from her parents.
The next morning, Derek called ahead to his precinct and said that Omowale showed up at his home late in the night. He would be bringing her to the station. Derek brought Omowale to the station. Derek talked jovially to everyone. They put Omowale in an interview room. A male cop interviewed her. She told the story as Derek coached her. Her parents came and picked her up and drove her back to Cassopolis. That evening, Omowale’s older sister’s NYC crew arrived at Derek’s home in Flint but left when they saw it was boarded up thinking it was abandoned. By that time, Omowale was back with her parents in Cassopolis.
1st KINGDOM HALL PUBLIC REPROOF/SHAMING
When Omowale returned to Cassopolis, her mother took her to the Kingdom Hall. Although Dad had brought mom to the faith and Watchtower Society, he stopped attending and did not come to the meetings. They met with the elders and Omowale had multiple “debriefings.” They wanted details. Again, Omowale stuck to the story Derek coached her on. The elders were warm and kind, saying they were sympathetic to her. She was not a bad person, but the appearance of impropriety willingly running off with a man they had to publicly reprove her in front of the congregation. That Sunday after the teaching the elders announced from the stage (pulpit) that Omowale was being publicly reproved for improper contact with a man. They also announced that she was considered “bad association” and encouraged parents in the congregation not to have their kids associate with Omowale because according to I Corinthians 15:33 “bad company corrupts good character.” However, Omowale could atone for her behavior. If she proved herself through consistent and regular participation in field service, meeting attendance, and personal bible study, she would be taken off disassociation. After her public reproof, Omowale ran to the bathroom and cried. The other black family’s mother ran behind her and held her in the bathroom. She said she knew there had to be something more to this story and wasn’t happy with the decision. Still, Omowale didn’t reveal the truth to her. Dad was not there for the reproof.
After this, Omowale became severely depressed. She had dramatic weight loss. Omowale’s mother became more involved at the Kingdom Hall as a full-time field service pioneer. With her dad still working to stay away from home and her mom at the Kingdom Hall, Omowale was home alone again. She began sneaking out at night to talk to Derek. This time the conversations were way more sexual in nature. He told her not to worry about the public reproof because he didn’t think it was right. She wanted to be with him. He told her things would get better and she needed to calm down.
Omowale decided that if Derek wouldn’t come get her than she had to come to him. She had been home with her parents for about a month. Because he coached her so well, she knew how to get to him. Her father had previously taught her how to drive. When her parents were asleep, she took Dad’s car and drove to South Bend, Indiana. The train station to Chicago was near the regional airport. Derek had told her about tracking. Omowale knew she couldn’t leave the car at airport parking or she’d be tracked before making it to Flint. She parked the car on the street in a residential neighborhood nearby knowing it would buy her time before the police found it. She walked to the train station and took the morning train to Chicago. She arrived in downtown Chicago and went to Amtrak (just like Derek told her to tell the police when he “turned her in”). She knew Chicago because she had relatives there and visited enough that she was familiar with the city. She went to Union Station and purchased a ticket for Flint Michigan.
She arrived in Flint around midnight. She took a taxi to Derek’s house but a few blocks away as he had taught her for avoiding tracking. She went to the convenience store near his house and called from a payphone for him to open the door. He opened the door, but they didn’t stay. He took her to a motel about half an hour away. He stayed for a few hours before leaving. He left her his .45 gun in case anyone tried to break in the room. The police came to Derek’s home three times in three days. Each time he allowed them in the home. Omowale stayed in the motel for a few days with him visiting her. Derek’s special friend, the woman she met the first time in Flint, came to the motel to take her out to eat. Derek told the woman that Omowale was a “distressed runaway.” She believed she was rescuing Omowale. However, on this trip the woman casually talked about Derek and him spending the night at her house. It was then that Omowale realized the days Derek did not answer her page or come to the motel he was with this woman.
After the woman took Omowale back to the motel, she felt betrayed and asks Derek about spending the night with the woman. Derek assured Omowale that the woman had emotional problems and was getting out of an abusive relationship. He only spent the night to protect the woman. Then Derek tells her, “You can’t keep doing this. We have to wait. This will ruin my life. If you’re patient everything will be fine. You have to think of me. You’re putting me at risk.” He was going to send Omowale back home. She said she wouldn’t go. He made her promise to stay and wait for the police. He took his gun and gave her cash. He left and called his precinct and told them where she was and for them to go get her. The police arrived at the motel that evening. The state troopers drove her halfway where her parents met her and drove the rest of the way to Cassopolis. Her parents were less friendly on this drive.
2ND KINGDOM HALL REPROOF/PUBLIC SHAMING
When she returned to Cassopolis with her parents, things were worse. Her parents weren’t speaking to each other causing her mother to become more involved with the Kingdom Hall. Omowale’s mom would take her to the Kingdom Hall with her. This time the elders not only publicly reproved Omowale in front of the congregation, but they also announced the disfellowship of Derek from the Watchtower Society due to the motel incident. It had been rumored that Derek had a similar incident at his previous Kingdom Hall with a girl around the same age as Omowale. Again, Dad was not there, just her mom and younger brother.
Omowale was still sneaking out in the middle of the night to talk to Derek. Derek was always reassuring, validating her as special. All hell breaks loose at Omowale’s house. Her parents weren’t talking. Omowale and her mom were either arguing or not talking. Omowale had enough and decided to run away again. This time she takes the Greyhound to Flint. However, the police board the bus at Kalamazoo rest stop and take her off. Omowale still tells the story Derek coached her. Her parents are horrible and she has a dysfunctional home. They take her back home.
This time Omowale’s parents try lockdown. That doesn’t stop Omowale from finding ways to sneak out the house, pretending to go to bed early sneaking out while her parents were in the living room watching tv to call Derek and sneak back in unnoticed. When Derek was not as reassuring as before, Omowale would make up stories about her parents. Derek would send her money at the post office. One day, she was in her bedroom closet listening to music with her Walkman headphones on. Her mother called her, but she didn’t respond. When they came to her room and didn’t see her (no one checked the closet), her mother panicked and ran out the house asking neighbors to help look for Omowale. After a while, Omowale came out of the closet and went downstairs but the house was empty. All the doors were wide open. She went outside but no one was there. As she walked down the street, her mother ran towards her yelling and crying. “You gotta stop fucking running away.” Omowale tried to explain that she hadn’t ran away, but they didn’t believe her. Shortly afterwards, she decided that she would run away.
She knew this time that she needed to do it a different way to not be tracked. She needed to delay discovery. The first time she ran away with Derek he told her how long it took before a missing person would be elevated from a county issue to a state issue. She needed a head start. She stole Dad’s car while everyone slept and drove to Kalamazoo rest stop and took the bus to Flint. This time when she arrived in Flint, Derek was not happy when she called him to open the door. He said, “You can’t come here.” It was the first time he was angry with her. Omowale threatened to tell the truth to the police, so he opened the door and let her in. They got in his van and went to a hotel about an hour away. Omowale stayed at the hotel for one day, but Derek did not spend the night. They talked all night. The next morning Derek arrived and took her to breakfast. As they sat in the van, he promised her a wonderful life and talked about sex. Then his tone changed, and he said, “Go back home. Pull it together. Gotta stop running away, it’s not safe.” He used a stern father voice which Omowale felt was hypocritical because he was the one that orchestrated the first runaway. Now, she resented him. He said he was taking her to the train and sending her back home. He also wanted her to call her mother. He coached her on what to say and how long she could talk before the phone could be traced. He told Omowale to tell her mom she was coming home and not to worry and that she would tell her everything when she got home.
FIFTH AND FINAL RUNAWAY SPRING OF 1994
Derek drove Omowale to the Amtrak and gave her about $500. As Omowale was on the train, she became angry at Derek. She began to realize that he only cared about his life getting ruined. Although she was mad at him, she didn’t want to go home to her parents either. She decided to fuck ’em all. She wasn’t going home and couldn’t stay with Derek. She was aware that something was wrong with the Derek situation. She got off the train at the next stop in a small town. She came up with a story of being stranded trying to get to Chicago and a local gave her a ride to a nearby motel. She stayed at the motel for 3–4 days. She figured she’d be running her life. She wanted to travel and was good at budgeting from the time her mom was in Paris and she had to run the house. Omowale figured she could easily work at a store to make money along the way. She had a plan. She would get back on the train and travel west. She would be like the Boxcar Children in the books she read as a child. She would take the train to Chicago and then head west. She didn’t want her mom to think that she was dead. She called her mom before boarding the train to Chicago. She must have stayed on the phone too long because by the time she arrived in Chicago, the police had tracked her.
It was decided that instead of sending the police to the train (fearing she would run), they sent Omowale’s aunt that lived in Chicago to meet her at the train. When Omowale got off the train in Chicago, her aunt met her. Her aunt talked to her for hours in Union Station. Omowale stuck to the story about her horrible parents and family dysfunction not mentioning her relationship with Derek. Omowale’s aunt was skeptical that her home life was that bad, but to prevent her from running told Omowale that she didn’t’ have to go home she could stay with her. Omowale’s was at her aunt’s house for a few days. She was still talking to Derek. Derek was very conciliatory, and their conversations went back to normal with phone sex. Her aunt was very dedicated to the Watchtower Society, more so than her mother almost fanatically so. Her aunt would take her to the Kingdom Hall. At one point, Omowale tried calling Derek from the basement of the Kingdom Hall, but when someone caught her trying to use the phone, she made an excuse.
A few days after staying with her aunt, the police came in the middle of the night demanding her aunt give them Omowale for harboring a missing minor. Her aunt told the police that she was the aunt and Omowale’s mother knew she was there. The police said that someone made a missing person report indicating the minor might be hiding here. The aunt called Omowale’s mom who was crying and yelling on the phone for the police to leave her with the aunt. The aunt heard Omowale’s mom ask Dad. Dad yelled, “I called them.” Her parents had a horrible argument and to get back Omowale’s mom, Dad called the police and said the aunt was harboring a missing minor. It was then that Omowale’s aunt realized besides the Derek issue, the dysfunction was true. Omowale thought her aunt turned her over to the police. The cops only allowed Omowale to put on clothes, she could bring nothing. As the cops took Omowale away, her aunt kept saying, “It wasn’t me. I didn’t call them.”
The police took Omowale to the precinct for questioning. But this time, Omowale was hostile to the police feeling betrayed by her aunt and refused to talk. After completing paperwork, the cops took Omowale to a group home on the north side of Chicago. Omowale broke out of the group home in the middle of night through a window and down a pipe and over a fence. Because it was after midnight, the only thing open was a bar. Omowale walked to the bar and asked the bouncer if he had quarters so she could use their payphone to make a call saying that she was robbed. The bouncer allowed her in. She called Derek and he sent her money.
For a few days, Omowale wandered the streets of Chicago homeless. She would sleep at Union Station at night and roam the city by day. One day she decided she wanted Harold’s Chicken. Her parents used to always stop by Harold’s when they visited the city. She walked to the south loop neighborhood to get Harold’s. As she was walking, a few men approached her, grabbed her in the alley, beat and assaulted her. She blacked out during the assault. A few days later she woke up in the hospital. Her parents were there. When she was released from the hospital, Omowale’s older sisters in New York agreed to take joint responsibility and care of her. They insisted that their parents send her to New York to live with them.
BREAKING FREE, PREPARING FOR TRIAL
Omowale arrived in Brooklyn the summer of 1994. She said it was the happiest summer. Things were well. She was around her older sisters and their kids. They protected her. They gave her the ability to not have to be the adult in the room. Her sisters told their teenage sons what happened to Omowale. The sister that sent people to Flint to look for Omowale set up discipline and structure. Omowale was enrolled in high school and had friends her age. However, her sister told her no more contact with Derek. Unlike her parents, Omowale’s sister version of lockdown was real. She told her sons to watch Omowale. They were to inform her if Omowale used the house phone. Anticipating that Omowale would try the payphone, the sister instructed her sons that when Omowale went outside, one would go to the rooftop to see if she went to the payphone. Omowale did. When the sister found out that Omowale used the payphone, she contacted a friend that worked with the telephone company to have the records pulled. When she found Derek’s number in the records, Omowale’s sister confronted her.
The confrontation was not pretty and physical. That night as Omowale laid in bed, her sister came and held her in her arms like she did when Omowale was little. She held Omowale all night. The next day, Omowale’s sister called off work. She made Omowale breakfast. As they sat at the kitchen table, she told Omowale that they she could no longer talk to Derek. They were taking him to court and that wasn’t negotiable. Although Omowale’s mother was still devoted to the faith and followed the Watchtower instruction not to press charges because it would defame and blaspheme the name of Jehovah, Omowale’s sister was not of the faith and did not agree with the inaction of her parents. Omowale had to tell her the truth about her relationship with Derek. Her sister knew something was different about Omowale. Whatever happened between her and Derek made her different. Omowale had to go to trial. Omowale’s sister explained to her what power and empowerment meant and what it is to be powerless. For the first time, Omowale told her sister the truth about her relationship with Derek, everything.
1st TRIAL ENDS IN MISTRIAL
Omowale’s sister accompanied her from New York to Flint. They only went the day Omowale was to testify. Her sister told her she would be with her. Omowale would not be powerless. This was Omowale’s turn to reclaim her power. Omowale’s parents and younger brother were in the courtroom. No one had seen Derek’s wife Patty since the fire. Yet, Patty was at the courthouse to testify on behalf of Derek. Omowale saw Patty in the witness waiting area. When it was time for Omowale to take the stand, she saw Derek at the defendant’s table. He stared directly at her. Omowale’s sister told her to look at her not Derek. When Omowale took the stand, her sister went to the back of the courtroom and stood giving her the power fist salute and mouthed “you are strong.” The judge thought Omowale’s sister was coaching her and ordered her to be seated. Omowale’s sister said that she would not be seated. The judge ordered Omowale’s sister out of the courtroom. Omowale’s sister stood behind the court doors. In the window of the doors, she held up the power fist salute. Omowale was on the stand for a while being cross examined by Derek’s attorney. An issue was made of the fact that she didn’t tell the Flint state troopers about the sexual encounters. Additionally, Patty testified that Derek was impotent and therefore incapable of intercourse. After, Omowale’s testimony, they drove to Chicago to fly back to New York the following day. By the time they arrived in New York, the prosecutors call. Based on Patty’s testimony that Derek was impotent, it ended in a mistrial. They wanted to try the case again. Was Omowale willing and available to testify again? Omowale said yes. No one from the Kingdom Hall was present at the trial nor was the Watchtower Society mentioned in the newspaper. The newspaper simply mentioned that Derek met Omowale through church, no mention of the denomination or affiliation.
2ND TRIAL NOVEMBER 1994
Omowale thrived in New York. She had friends at high school and a part-time job. Being home with her sisters and their kids, made Omowale miss her mom and younger brother. It reminded her of how things used to be before they moved to Michigan. She wanted to be a family like then with her mother and younger brother. Her sister encouraged her to start talking to her mom to repair the relationship. Due to work, Omowale’s sister could not fly back with her for the second trial. However, her mom, Dad and younger brother were there. Again, Patty showed to support Derek. However, this time before the jury reached a verdict, Derek entered a plea agreement. He pled no contest to fourth-degree criminal sexual assault in exchange for the kidnapping charges to be dropped avoiding a fifteen-year prison sentence if the jury found him guilty. In January 1995, Derek A. Peete Sr. received a 1 ½ to 2-year prison sentence. The criminal docket is here. Omowale’s parents did not pursue a civil action against Derek, Michigan State Police, nor the Jehovah Witness Watchtower Society. Although Michigan recently amended its statute of limitations for sexual assault victims to pursue a civil action, it is too late for Omowale.
This story has been edited for length. The interview took place over two days. It was an emotional process as Omowale told her truth that she hasn’t spoken since the criminal trial in 1994 when she was 14. We took several breaks. At one point during the interview, as Omowale cried her dog came and licked her tears to console her. If you are a child sex abuse victim, please seek help using THESE resources.
Originally published on Ronda’s website, Ronda-isms.