glen mills schools

‘I Went into This Dark Shell': 2 Men Recount Beatings, Sexual Assaults at School

Two men, of five new lawsuits filed this week against Glen Mills Schools, told of "horrible" conditions inside the Pennsylvania reform school that they say existed for decades

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Laboy Wiggins says he was beaten and sexually abused as a teenager by staff at Glen Mills Schools in 1987.

Three decades later, Tawfeeq Abdul-Lateef says he suffered the same type of abuse at the hands of staff at the school.

Both men recounted beatings and sexual assaults — for the first time publicly — that they say no one at the school did anything about. In fact, both men said Wednesday, telling administrators resulted in more beatings.

"I reported it and I was beat," Wiggins said. "These staff members were conspiring in abuse."

Hopelessness settled in, Abdul-Lateef said, and he hopes his story, along with others, will keep the Delaware County juvenile detention center closed for good.

The school has been closed since last spring, after published reports detailed allegations of abuse for years.

"I went into this dark shell," he said, adding that he went in an outward, talkative kid and left a person scared of other people's touch.

Wiggins and Abdul-Lateef were among five new lawsuits filed against the school, which was founded in 1826 as the Philadelphia School of Refuge. During its nearly 200-year history, the school in Delaware County was run as a facility for reforming troubled youth. Children from across the United States, though many came from Philadelphia and Pennsylvania, were sent to Glen Mills.

But until late 2018, when published reports gave one teenager's account of a beating inside the school, there was little evidence publicly to indicate what is expected to become more than 300 lawsuits filed by former students claiming abuse.

By early spring, an initial wave of students sued the school for $10 million in damages.

Attorney Nancy Winkler, of Eisenberg, Rothweiler, Winkler, Eisenberg & Jeck, who is representing Wiggins, Abdul-Lateef and three others in their lawsuits against the school, said the men want to be "compensated adequately for their shattered lives."

But she and the two men said their goals also include never allowing the school to open again, and to help reform oversight of facilities like Glen Mills by the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

The school, which sits on 700 acres and grew into a sports powerhouse in recent decades, has been closed since last spring. In March 2019, the state ordered an "emergency removal" of all students at Glen Mills. Weeks later, the state rescinded all 14 licenses held by the school to operate. The school then appealed the decision to vacate the licenses.

By June, some school officials sought to reopen the school. More than 250 employees at the shuttered school have been laid off since the scandal broke.

"This is a horrible place that promoted on the outside to reforming young men," Wiggins said.

Both he and Lateef said they can't imagine how they'd feel if Glen Mills was allowed to open again.

“These allegations we learned of today can only be described as heartbreaking. Our attorneys are now evaluating the lawsuits. In the meantime, Glen Mills Schools continues to cooperate with all governmental authorities," school officials said through a spokesman.

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