AUSTINTOWN, Ohio - A Poland mother believes the unexplained suicide of her son may be linked to the growing number of child sex abuse cases against Brother Stephen Baker, a former teacher and coach at Warren's John F. Kennedy Catholic High School.
Barbara Aponte of Poland couldn't hold back the tears as she addressed news reporters. "When the story broke about Brother Stephen Baker, a flood of memories and images rushed at me. I was thrown back into the agony of Luke's death as if it had just occurred. What has never made sense to me suddenly became clear, and guilt overwhelmed me. Guilt, because things that pointed towards abuse were overlooked and dismissed by me. Comments made and things written by Luke while he was still a student at Kennedy went right over my head," Aponte said.
It's heartbreak and pain that has haunted this mother and her entire family for 10 years. Why did her son, 26-year-old Luke Bradesku, commit suicide when his life and career seemed to be flourishing?
He spent eight years in the U.S. Marine Corps and then accepted a job of a lifetime in Scottsdale, Arizona.
But his mother says her son had also attempted to take his own life while a freshman at JFK High School in the early 90s. It was something that was out of character for the well-liked student athlete with an infectious sense of humor.
"He left a vague note citing years of mental and emotional anguish. A desire to spare his family and friend's shame and embarrassment. A secret he never shared, and regret that he never sought help," Aponte said.
Aponte now is convinced her son was a child sex abuse victim of Brother Stephen Baker.
In October, 11 other former JFK students who attended the high school in the mid 1980s to early 1990s, received five figure settlements for being abused at the hands of Brother Baker.
The money largely came from the Franciscan Order out of Pennsylvania where Brother Baker was a member, the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown and Warren JFK where he taught religious classes and coached.
Aponte says her son made an angry statement about Baker in 2001 and it was something she never understood she says that is until now.
"He said Brother Steve (Brother Stephen Baker) was a pervert and he was angry. And I thought it was an odd reaction, so I just dropped the subject," Aponte said.
The Catholic Diocese of Youngstown says they've never been contacted by Aponte.
Brother Baker committed suicide just over a week ago, after the cases of abuse became public.
Aponte says she just wants to talk to those who may have direct knowledge of what happened to her son when he attended JFK, and she hopes talking about it will help others unload the burden that comes with keeping a secret.
"I can't do anything for my son but try and bring something good out of this mess and this filth," Aponte said.
Boston Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represented the first 11 confirmed victims of Brother Baker, says there are now more than 35 individuals that have contacted him claiming to have been sexually abused while students at JFK in Warren, St. Mary's Middle School and at Bishop McCort High School in Pennsylvania.
Attorney Garabedian is now calling on the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown and the Franciscan Order in Pennsylvania to "open their files and provide transparency into what they knew and when they knew Brother Stephen Baker was sexually molesting children."
The Boston lawyer says they do not have to mention victim's names, but should mention when settlements took place and who the perpetrator was.
Garabedian says the secrecy is fueled by confidentiality agreements, but a spokesperson for the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown says they do not make secret settlements.
Dr. Robert Hoatson with the group Road to Recovery that offers compassionate counseling for survivors of clergy abuse had this message for Catholic leaders, "We want those files opened up. You were the ones that said transparency was your goal, well here's your opportunity."
The Catholic Diocese of Youngstown says they have gone through all the files and there are no complaints or concerns documented about Brother Baker in the records of the Catholic Schools or the Diocese.