BOLIVAR, Mo. A Bolivar teen says he is just one victim of a man now sentenced to 30 years in federal prison, and he believes there are many more. He's speaking out about how he suffered in silence, though others knew of the alleged abuse, until just recently.
Ryan Briggs is now 18, but says he was 15 when the sexual abuse started. He only told his parents three months ago, and has finally begun to heal.
"I spent many nights very depressed, very afraid, very alone. I cried myself to sleep a lot, and I thought about suicide quite often," Briggs says.
Ryan Briggs says he came in contact with Monte Gann on a popular app, believing Gann was also a teen. Then he started showing up at Briggs' workplace. "He was very threatening. He was very good at what he did, and in being very threatening, he got me alone in that way, because I didn't know what he was capable of at the time," Briggs says.
Gann was arrested for child porn last December and has since pleaded guilty. Meanwhile, Briggs had still told no one of the sexual abuse. "One of his big threats was, I'm taking you down with me, and you're going to jail with me. And I didn't know how he was going to do that, but when he ended up in jail, I assumed that I was next," says Briggs.
In August, he went away to seminary college, but felt forced to come back home. Briggs says, "I just couldn't handle the flashbacks, because it just all exploded there."
He finally opened up to his parents. That's when they say they learned Gann had shared their son's name with a federal investigator, and individuals with the Bolivar Police Department and school district knew of the alleged abuse. "I wasted a lot of time and energy being angry and frustrated with that," Briggs says.
The police chief says although detectives knew Ryan's name, the FBI never asked his department to investigate or reach out. He says when Gann was arrested, the Bolivar Police Department asked for victims to contact police, but no one did.
The school district can't confirm if anyone knew, but is now working to educate kids about safe boundaries and staff about mandated reporter law.
Cherisse Thibaut, manager of prevention and community outreach at Missouri Kids First says, "Err on the side of the child. Err on the side of safety, and let someone know." The organization is now working with the Bolivar School District.
When he was too afraid to ask for help, Ryan Briggs wishes someone would have made a hotline call or reached out. He hopes his story will help others. "I hope an investigation will ensue, because there's a lot more victims that are silently waiting for help," says Briggs.
Thibaut says, "I think the best thing about this is really that this community is getting education now on child sexual abuse prevention, which is so powerful and so needed, and it can change an entire community."
Thibaut says Missouri Kids First has developed an online curriculum to train people on mandated reporter law. Click the link to the right side of this story to learn more. Failure to report as a mandated reporter is a Class A Misdemeanor in the state of Missouri.
"They just need to have reasonable suspicion that a child has been or is in circumstances where they could be hurt, and if they believe that, then they need to call Children’s Division," Thibaut says.
The Missouri Child Abuse and Neglect Hotline is 1-800-392-3738.
The Bolivar School District sent KY3 the following statement:
Even though the abuse did not occur at the school or by a school employee, it impacted one of our children. Bolivar has always taken an approach of making it a priority in our schools and in our community to provide a safe, secure environment for all of our children - they deserve no less.
The school district is committed to continuing to work with the community to establish partnerships that will decrease risk for child sexual abuse and will help others to understand how to respond to risky behaviors and suspicions or reports of sexual abuse.
The district is committed to devoting resources to abuse prevention by partnering with the Child Advocacy Center out of Springfield to provide age-appropriate personal safety/healthy boundaries training for all students within the district classrooms this year. Building principals and school counselors met with trainer, Melissa Vacey, in mid October to discuss and plan for training options. These trainings will take place this winter and spring across the district.
In addition, the district is partnering with Missouri Kids First in Jefferson City to provide training for all staff members “Darkness to Light – Stewards of Children” a two-hour child sexual abuse prevention program. Trainer Cherisse Thibaut has already presented this program for the Bolivar Primary School staff on November 8th, with additional staff training dates schedule for January 5th and February 19th.
The district is also inviting the community to attend this valuable training on January 5th, and will be reaching out to the community by mailing a letter with an informational flyer home with every child and sending letters with invitational flyers to many local churches, child care providers, local law enforcement, and youth programs within the Bolivar community.
It is our desire to increase awareness of the prevalence, consequences, and circumstances of child sexual abuse and to provide new skills for adults to prevent, recognize, and react responsibly to child sexual abuse.
We will continue to look for ways to keep our children safe - our children deserve no less.
Mona Coleman, Bolivar School Board President