A current sex predator bill that would require states that receive federal education funds to conduct period background checks and bar schools from hiring those convicted of violent and sexual crimes against a child was inspired by the murder of a 12-year-old Fayetteville boy and his late father.
Sen. Pat Tooney, R-Pa., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., are co-sponsoring the bill, which would also bar school districts from hiring those convicted of drug and assault-related crimes committed within five years.
Manchin and Tooney were both urging the Senate to pass the bill.
The 1997 death of Jeremy Bell in Thurmond prompted the bill, according to an Associated Press report.
Edgar Friedrichs, then a 58-year-old principal at Beckwith Elementary School, was found guilty in Fayette County Circuit Court in July 2005 of murdering Jeremy and was sentenced to serve a life sentence without the possibility of parole.
Jeremy died on Nov. 7 or 8, 1997, during an overnight trip at a fishing cabin Friedrichs owned in Thurmond. He had reportedly drugged the boy, who was his former student, with an antidepressant and chloroform. Jeremy vomited and asphyxiated to death, according to testimony.
Jeremy’s father, Roy Bell of Beckwith, who had rallied for years to pass a similar piece of state legislation in Pennsylvania, died on Oct. 19 in Fayette County before seeing his efforts rewarded.
“Roy was a good man, a good father; Jeremy was his only son,” Bell’s cousin, Elsie Deal of Pennsylvania, told www.philly.com.
She told reporters that Jeremy’s murder galvanized Bell — a quiet, unassuming “country man” — to push for laws such as the one sponsored by Tooney and Manchin.
“He knew that if a law had existed in Pennsylvania” that would have required Friedrichs’ records to follow him to his next job, “Jeremy would still be alive,” Deal said.
That conviction led Bell to Pennsylvania, where he lent his support to a state sex predator bill.
Pennsylvania school officials in Prospect Park, Pa., had failed to notify Fayette school administrators that Friedrichs had been dismissed for molesting a student in Delaware County, Pa., in the 1970s.
Instead, Prospect Park principals gave Friedrichs a recommendation to Fayette officials — a practice known as “passing the trash.”
Friedrichs worked at five Fayette elementary schools between 1975 and 2001.
In 1985-86 when he taught at a Powellton school, according to victim statements, he molested a male student. Teachers reported their suspicions to school administrators but said the matter was never investigated.
Friedrichs became principal of Beckwith Elementary in 1995.
Following Jeremy’s death, he continued to work in the Fayette school system.
Bell rallied the help of Dan Barber, a private investigator and former police officer from Pennsylvania, to investigate Jeremy’s death.
Barber worked with Bell for several years to collect evidence against Friedrichs, presenting his findings to West Virginia State Police Capt. Scott VanMeter.
VanMeter launched an investigation of Jeremy’s death in March 2001, and Friedrichs was indicted in March 2003.
The bill was still in the Senate on Thursday.
— E-mail: farrish@