By DAMIEN FISHER, InDepthNH.org
Five years ago, Lisa Ricker answered a knock at her door, upending the unsteady truce she had with her own past.
Ricker, now 43, is a recovering addict and proud mom. For years she tried to not think about her past as a runaway, or the torment she suffered in the Sununu Youth Services Center, or her years in prison. But that visitor five years ago, an investigator with the New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office, brought it all back.
“I just wanted to numb everything, because when I was young it was just all there. I put everything behind me, not that it was gone but I just didn’t think about it anymore, and then some random person knocked on my door and it came back,” Ricker said.
The pain reliving the abuse she went through at what was then called the Youth Development Center in Manchester was tempered with hope, though. She thought that finally someone was listening to her. Maybe this time her abusers would be held to account. Maybe she could finally move on.
She told state investigators about the abuse and the rapes, and specifically about Lamont Hicks, the then-YDC staffer she says raped her. She told the story again and again, went through depositions and prepared to see it through to court. But then the same thing that’s always happened to the majority of YDC victims happened again. Nothing.
Hicks told InDepthNH.org he never abused or raped anyone and in fact the children at YDC liked him. He also said he never witnessed any abuse when he worked at YDC.
After months of rushing to get her testimony before Ricker turned 40, and before the statute of limitations to charge Hicks ran out, investigators stopped calling. The case seemed to die, along with Ricker’s hope for justice. Just another example of how she and other YDC victims say they’ve been treated all their lives.
“Nobody cares because we were bad children,” Ricker said through tears.
Three years passed, and Ricker was again trying to find her footing in life. She tries to focus on her 12-year-old daughter and rebuilding a relationship with her parents. But in the last few weeks, she started talking to her YDC sisters, women who were at the juvenile detention center at the same time as her. Women who also say they were raped by Hicks.
Corrine Moon, 42, also says Hicks raped her, and she’s infuriated by the state’s seeming apathy to do anything. She’s experiencing that feeling of futility all over again trying to get justice.
“Now it’s just the same thing. You say something and no one believes you,” said Moon who lives on the Seacoast.
Another YDC sister and alleged Hicks rape victim, Brooke Pinard, 41, of Laconia, kept her abuse to herself for decades. It was something she didn’t really talk about until she heard from Moon.
“I was surprised when I learned about Corrine, but I felt a little better that it wasn’t just me. It feels really bad to say that, but in my head I knew I couldn’t be the only one,” Pinard said.
All three women have filed civil lawsuits against the state as part of the unprecedented civil action. There are several hundred civil complaints on file and approximately 1,300 alleged YDC victims. Moon, Pinard, and Ricker all filed civil lawsuits under Jane Doe pseudonyms, but have decided to drop their anonymity because of Hicks.
Hicks is named as an abuser in at least 20 of the YDC lawsuits, said Nixon Peabody’s David Vicinanzo, one of the lead attorneys representing the victims in civil lawsuits. The New Hampshire Attorney General’s Office has known about the allegations against Hicks for years, Vicinanzo said.
Despite this, Hicks has never been criminally charged and he continues to make a living in Massachusetts as a youth basketball coach.
“I haven’t been contacted about no lawsuits because I didn’t do anything,” Hicks told InDepthNH.org.
Hicks denies he ever raped or abused any of the girls under his care at YDC. He had a positive experience with the YDC children, for the most part.
“The kids liked me,” Hicks said.
In fact, Hicks said he never saw any abuse in his time at YDC despite working with some of the men currently charged criminally.
“I didn’t see it. I really didn’t see it,” Hicks said. “I definitely would have told.”
Hicks started as the boys’ basketball coach at Murdock High School in Winchendon, Mass. for the 2021 season, and he runs a private basketball school in nearby Gardner, Mass.
Winchendon’s School Superintendent Dr. Ruthann Petruno-Goguen has not responded to several requests for comment. In the only phone conversation InDepthNH.org managed to have with her, Petruno-Goguen said she did not know Hicks and did not know if he was a district employee. Petruno-Goguen promised to research the coach and call back. She has yet to do so.
Winchendon’s School Committee Chair Karen Kast-McBride, a self-styled public education advocate, has not responded to requests for comment. Vice Chair David LaPlante, an attorney and former police officer, also did not respond.
The fact Hicks is able to work with children despite the accusations is sickening to Pinard, Moon, and Ricker. It’s the reason the three women have decided to drop their anonymity and go public.
“I’m going to be loud about it and not stop,” Moon said.
For years, Moon told almost no one what happened to her inside YDC. It was easier to bury the abuse and the rapes and the torment. That was the truce Moon made.
“When I got out, I was just like ‘it was shit that happened, just move on,’” Moon said.
She thought she had moved on, until she started getting contacted by investigators and lawyers a few years ago. At this point Moon was a mother herself and the things she spent years trying to leave behind couldn’t be ignored anymore.
“It wasn’t until I was forced to think about it again, when I started thinking about it as an adult and as a mother,” Moon said.
She couldn’t ignore it anymore.
Moon started telling people what happened, and that included Hicks, the man she says groomed her and raped her.
“I had thought it was just like sleeping with a staff member, as a teen I didn’t think of it as abuse,” Moon said.
Moon’s new mission to speak out brought her to the recent rally in Concord in which victims and their supporters demanded a federal investigation take over the prosecution of alleged YDC abusers. Pinard and Ricker went with Moon, and that’s when they also decided to come forward with their stories.
The fault, according to Moon, Pinard, and Ricker, is with the Attorney General’s Office and its obvious conflict of interest. The state’s YDC Task Force has so far indicted 11 alleged abusers, and seemingly stopped, they said. At the same time, the state is defending itself in the civil lawsuits, trying to minimize the damage.
“We need an independent investigation … I have seen where they say there are firewalls to insure there are proper investigations being done. You all work for the same god damn agency,” Moon said. “They can’t go into one court and say we believe you and then go into another and say you’re a liar.”
It’s not as though the state doesn’t believe Moon. She’s one of the witnesses for the prosecution in the case against Jeffrey Buskey, one of the indicted YDC staffers.
Michael Garrity, spokesman for New Hampshire Attorney General John Formella did not answer InDepthNH.org’s questions about Hicks, why more people have not been charged, and the possibility of the state asking for a federal investigation. Instead, he sent a statement affirming the state’s ongoing work.
“Our YDC criminal investigations remain active and ongoing. Any person with information regarding criminal conduct at the YDC is urged to contact the N.H. Attorney General’s YDC Task Force hotline at 603-271-4000,” Garrity wrote.
The first round of civil lawsuits could go to trial next year, starting a legal process that could last more than a decade. The criminal cases are still months from going to trial as the state and defense work through various motions.
The legal cases have been working their way through court for so long it seems like they will never start for the victims. It’s a future event they don’t know will ever become present as they constantly live with a painful past.
Moon grew up in an abusive home in Manchester and started acting out when she was 12. She and a friend spent an afternoon lighting lint balls on fire in an apartment laundry room and got caught by police.
“My first court date was my 13th birthday,” Moon said.
Around this time, while still living in Manchester, Moon was raped. Her mother didn’t want to know.
“Manchester police were contacted and she came and picked me up at the station. We never spoke about it. What I said to her, it didn’t matter. There was no one I could talk to,” Moon said.
Soon the 13-year-old was packed off to YDC and subjected to hellish abuse from staff. Moon had learned her lesson there was no one she could tell. That’s where Hicks stepped in. Assigned to the boy’s cottage, Hicks started grooming Moon, making her feel special, she said. He then used his relationship with the child to rape her multiple times, she said. It took Moon a long time to see clearly.
“I just don’t think I realized it was abuse,” Moon said.
Ricker is motivated to come forward by her YDC sisters, and her desire to protect others from Hicks.
“I want to see him not working with children, that’s just horrible.”
Ricker grew up in an abusive home in Manchester as well. Her childhood response was to run away, starting at 11. She ran away from home, ran away from group homes and foster families.
“I just got addicted to running away. I was used to being by myself,” Ricker said.
She was around 14 when she got sent to YDC. Like Moon, Hicks sought her out and groomed her for a relationship that would turn sexual. Soon, she said, Hicks was trading institutional privileges for sexual favors.
“When you want things and you can’t have nothing and you get things for doing certain things, you do them,” Ricker said.
Hicks claimed he never traded sex for YDC privileges, such as extra time outside.
“What privileges can you possibly give them?” Hicks said.
As an adult, Ricker still carries shame, blaming herself for what she says Hicks did to her. At the time, Hicks was one of the few YDC staff members who did not strike her with fear. She eventually tried to get away from YDC, falling back on her old plan of running away.
“I ran away from YDC, and when I was brought back they beat the shit out of me,” Ricker said. “I still have an (expletive) up nose because of it.”
Pinard is shocked that the state is not acting to at least keep Hicks from working with children after hearing from so many other alleged victims.
“I’m dumbfounded, I don’t know what else you need to be told. The State of New Hampshire is a piece of shit if you ask me. Nothing has been done,” Pinard said.
Pinard describes herself as having been a defiant kid who never wanted to do what she was told. She said her mother was an alcoholic who had a son removed from her custody. Pinard and her mother moved around, and she said there were a string of men in and out of their lives. And that she was sexually abused.
After she got caught for being truant, Pinard was sent to YDC at around 13.
“I didn’t do anything bad, I was just a defiant kid,” Pinard said.
Pinard said she was subjected to a lot of restraints for “being mouthy.” Unlike Ricker and Moon, Hicks didn’t groom Pinard, she said. During a social event at one of the boy’s cottages, Hicks pointed to her. “Hey, Come here,” she remembers him saying before he led her to a secluded area.
“I just followed him,” she said.
Once alone, Hicks raped her, she said.
“Right to the point I guess,” Pinard said. “I didn’t tell anyone. In my head, I figured it probably would have been my fault because I was where I wasn’t supposed to be, or something.”
Like the others, Pinard didn’t really talk to anyone about the abuse after she got out. She drank too much for years after she got out of YDC and found she’s angry a lot of the time. Motherhood helped her ease back on drinking, but her anger has caused her grief and held her back to a degree.
“I’m an angry person,” Pinard said.
She’s also had trouble finding a stable partner.
“I go for the relationships that are terrible for me,” Pinard said.
Moon struggled with drug addiction for the better part of 20 years after she got out of YDC, something she blames on the benzodiazepines YDC staff would give her. Anxiety and depression are other side effects from state care.
“I didn’t go in with this, I came out with it,” Moon said.
Ricker found herself in trouble within a year of getting out of YDC. She developed a drug addiction and turned to theft to feed her habit. That landed her in state prison for nine years, which was something of a revelation. In state prison, she wasn’t abused.
“I went to prison when I was 18, and I was there until I was 27 and I didn’t get any of that abuse in an adult prison,” Ricker said. “But I did as a child, I don’t understand. The system treated me better as an adult criminal than as a child. If they hadn’t done that to me, I probably wouldn’t be an adult criminal.”
Ricker has learned to deal with some of her lingering wounds. She’s clean and sober, and she’s no longer angry. But she’s not completely healthy yet.
“I finally let go of the anger, but it was there for a long time. Now, I’m just sad all the time,” Ricker said.
Hicks managed to express some sympathy for the victims at YDC, while still saying he is innocent and was unaware of any abuse from other staffers.
“Do I feel bad for these kids for whatever’s going on? Yes. But I never saw it,” Hicks said.
Mixed with the anger and resolve Moon, Pinard and Ricker share, there’s also fear.
Moon worries what will happen once Hicks is exposed to the world. Hicks knows a lot of the same people as Moon, Ricker, and Pinard, and there will be fallout.
“Everyone’s looking at him like he’s this stellar person, and he’s not,” Moon said. “It’s scary to go up against this.”
Hicks maintains the image of a youth coach contributing to his community. Last year, Worcester District Attorney Joseph Early Jr. gave Hicks and his basketball school, The Future Hoops, a $2,500 community grant.
Scott Croteau, Early’s deputy communications director, said the office was unaware of the lawsuits when Hicks was given the award.
“We don’t know anything about that,” Croteau said.
Individuals and organizations throughout Worcester County are free to apply for the grants handed out by Early’s office, and Croteau said Hicks submitted a grant on behalf of his private basketball school. Croteau declined to say if Hicks and his application were vetted in any way.
“We’re not going to speculate on that,” Croteau said.
And now there’s motherhood. Each woman has lived with a dread that, through no fault of their own, their children will be taken away from them. They are afraid their own children will go through the same hell they were forced to live through.
“I was scared to death to have kids when I got out. I was terrified my kids could get placed into YDC,” Moon said.
Their children’s future is where the truce Moon, Picard, and Ricker made with their pasts snaps. They have to speak now. They have to stop this from ever happening again. Ricker’s daughter is now the same age she was when she first went into state custody.
“I have a 12-year-old daughter, and to see how innocent and young she is at 12,” Ricker said. “I just don’t see how anyone can do that.”