The story of Shaun Harrison—the Boston reverend, public school dean, and anti-violence community activist accused of the shooting of one his students, an apparent employee of his alleged drug-dealing operation—seems almost too outlandish to be true. Many have compared it to something out of a movie, but with its overstuffed combination of drugs, religion, public schools, and violence, it’s the type you’d likely walk out of on account of its heavy-handedness.
But the story got even more distressing this week, as the details of his son’s alleged molestation at the hands of a fellow youth minister resurfaced.
Many in the Boston community in which he worked have rightly asked how Harrison, who was arraigned in Roxbury Municipal Court on Monday on additional gun and drug charges stemming from a search of his home this month, could have flown under the radar for so long. He pleaded not guilty.
“We’re all questioning, ‘Why didn’t we see something before?’” schools Superintendent Jim McDonough said.
“He was an advocate for anti-violence. Why would he be on our radar screen?” Boston police Commissioner William Evans asked.
“We were not aware of rumors,” Denise Snyder, the Boston Public Schools media relations director, explained to The Daily Beast shortly after his arrest.
Yet in the ensuing weeks, stories about Harrison’s past have begun to circulate that, if true, may explain why Harrison bounced around frequently in jobs at multiple schools in just a few short years.
In fact, on the day of the shooting, Harrison had reportedly shoved a female student, according to The Boston Globe, an offense for which the paper said he was set to be fired. Last year police had received anonymous tips to a CrimeStoppers hotline that led them to stake out Harrison’s apartment, but nothing came of the investigation.
So why was a man shrouded in rumors and unofficial reports alleging criminal activity allowed to maintain his position working with children? It’s an all-too-familiar question in Boston—especially considering the city’s clergy sexual molestation scandal that rocked the Catholic Church.
As it turns out, Harrison’s own son, P. Edward, says he was himself raped, allegedly by a member of the local clergy on a number of occasions in 2004 and 2005, beginning when he was 14 years old.
It wasn’t until 2006, while hospitalized for threatening to commit suicide, that the younger Harrison officially accused Reverend Lawrence Brown of Mount Calvary Baptist Church in Boston’s South End of molesting him over a dozen times.
“He would rub my back by giving me a massage and touch my private places. He would put his hands down my shorts. He had me sleep in the same bed when everyone was asleep (on a camping trip in New Hampshire) and started touching (me),” he told the Boston Herald in 2007.
To make matters worse, Brown was the cousin of P. Edward’s mother, Shaun Harrison’s wife.
The fallout of the abuse apparently led to the crumbling of Shaun Harrison’s marriage, with his wife refusing to press charges, according to statements he made at the time.
Pressure from the church community, which appeared to have learned about Brown’s rumored abuse in 2005, also began to build, according to the Herald’s 2007 report.
“I’ve heard from family members and church members that God is going to kill me because we’re trying to expose the church,” the elder Harrison said at the time. For all his later faults to come, the father appears to have made sincere efforts to make sure Brown’s abuse was reported, albeit for naught.
Although the victim eventually reported the abuse to the Department of Social Services, and Brown admitted in an unsigned letter to the teenager’s parents that he had raped Edward Harrison, no one seemed particularly eager to bring charges against Brown.
This is despite—or perhaps specifically because—an official at Mount Calvary, Reverend George Bullock, was the boy’s grandfather. Brown’s supervisors at the Emmanuel Gospel Center and Reverend Chris Sumner, the former head of the Ten-Point Coalition, which Harrison co-founded, were also reportedly aware of the incident, according to the Boston Herald. Brown was in fact fired from the Gospel Center.
“I know that God has forgiven me,” the letter from Brown, who was sent off on a retreat to reflect on his sins, read in part. “I really do want you to both know how sorry I am and that I want to even be restored in your eyes. I cannot imagine what you must feel.”
Despite this written admission, Brown is still listed as a member of the ministerial staff at Mount Calvary all these years later, and he faced no legal consequences for his actions.
“The case could not be charged in Suffolk County—the evidence simply did not support criminal charges here,” the District Attorney’s office told The Daily Beast.
If you’re wondering how someone like Harrison can worm his way through the public school system, look no further than what happened with his son’s accused molester for another example of how these things work.
As Dig Boston’s Chris Faraone notes, “Not unlike the way deviant collars are shuffled between parishes, ineffective and in certain cases toxic educators are moved recklessly from school to school.”
It was that failure of accountability from the system that some believe led Harrison’s transition from fighting to allegedly becoming his school’s criminal element.
Jamarhl Crawford, a Roxbury community activist and editor of the Blackstonian blog, who is acquainted with families in the church, thinks this was indeed the tipping point.
“You find Jesus. You’ve got faith in God. You’re a clergy, rubbing elbows with all the prominent preachers. Then your son gets molested—by your wife’s cousin, for God’s sake—and the church tells you to keep it quiet. Your wife tells you to keep it quiet,” says Crawford. “If you were predisposed to shooting, wouldn’t that have been the perfect time to shoot somebody? People would at least sort of understand. Apparently, it wasn’t in him then, but it got in him later.”
“I believe it was this ultimate betrayal, not just of the clergy, but also of your God,” Crawford says. “These people who prayed with me and ate at my house—I know they’re a bunch of frauds who don’t care. You’ve been betrayed by God and man. If you were predisposed to crime in your life pre-Jesus, wouldn’t that be a perfect time to go back to that? When your church is closed, as they say, the streets are open.”
Before Harrison’s arrest, Crawford says, the impression of him around the neighborhood was of a “power-tripping type of guy who thought he was cool, slick.”
Coupled with access to children from his positions in community outreach programs and as a dean in the schools, it combined, he says, for a perfect storm of opportunity to take advantage of at-risk youth.