Flipping through yearbooks he hadn’t cracked in decades, Jamie Forbes chuckles. His friends at Milton Academy - his tribe - were everything.
“We felt like a band of brothers,” said the now 49-year-old New Hampshire man.
It was 1981, the summer between 8th and 9th grade.
A beloved and indulgent teacher at the Massachusetts prep school was leading a school bike trip through Italy. Forbes and his buddies jumped at the chance.
“Opportunities to drink alcohol - at that age, that’s fairly alluring,” he said.
It was a six-week trek from Genoa to Venice. The only adult - then 36-year-old Rey Buono - the charismatic pied piper of Milton’s theater department. Toward the end of the trip, the eight boys and Buono checked into a small pensione in Venice. There were not enough beds for everyone, and after a night of drinking, 14-year-old Forbes had to bunk with Buono.
“All of a sudden, his hand started roaming around on my body," Forbes said. "It was... it was sort of... it was a terrifying experience because I certainly felt like, what did I do to make him think I’d be interested?”
The next day, Forbes told two of his closest friends, including Doug Cabot.
“I remember this feeling of freezing as it dawned on me what was happening,” Cabot said.
Cabot hadn’t told anyone, but said Buono had made a pass at him days earlier. He rebuffed it and, infuriated, confronted his teacher about what happened to Forbes.
“I said, ‘Rey, you (expletive) up.' He said, ‘That won’t happen again, I promise.’ 'Yeah,'” said Cabot, shaking his head.
But Forbes said it did. When he got back from Italy, his mom told him that she and his dad were separating.
“I didn’t say anything (about the alleged abuse),” he said. “And I just sort of sat with it.”
Fearing that he wouldn’t have a male role model in his life, and not knowing about the alleged abuse, his mother asked Milton if Buono could be her son's advisor.
“That would turn into him trying to trying to touch me,” Forbes said.
He said the abuse went on at Buono’s on-campus apartment for another six months. Forbes didn’t tell anyone.
“I didn’t have the words,” he said. “I didn’t have the sense of confidence to… know what to do.”
He eventually did tell Cabot what was going on, and Cabot told Forbes's mother.
The men said Forbes's mother went to the administration, but Buono kept his job.
Forbes said to the best of his knowledge, no one ever called the police.
“In order to fire Rey, I would have to be exposed in some way and that was scary," he said. "The abuse stopped and that’s what I cared about.”
Buono’s alleged history didn’t become public until last month. The Boston Globe Spotlight series on sexual abuse at private schools prompted Milton to ask students and alumnae last spring if they’d been hurt.
Forbes was the first to come forward. But according to Milton, an independent investigation found at least a dozen other former students who said Buono abused them as well.
“How can it be?" wonders Forbes. “And it was.”
A school spokesperson declined NBC Boston's interview request, but in a letter to the Milton community said that the headmaster at the time “...had some knowledge of Rey Buono’s misconduct in 1982,” when Jamie’s mother went to school leaders, and that Milton, “...failed to protect students and failed to investigate…”
Buono continued working at the school - even, Jamie said, resuming the Italy trips - until 1987, when the teacher admitted to abusing another student.
NBC Boston believes the now 72-year-old Buono is living in Southeast Asia, working as a drama coach and teacher.
We could not reach him, and his attorney did not respond to our emails or call. Milton police and the district attorney are investigating, but Buono has not been charged with a crime.
Deciding to come forward has been a difficult decision for Forbes. But he wondered what he was saying to other victims - to his own children - about shedding the stigma of shame if he was keeping his own a dark family secret.
We asked his 13-year-old daughter Willow what she thought of her dad coming forward.
“I think it’s really empowering, especially because our generation - my generation - doesn’t usually talk about this kind of thing," she said. "But I don’t think I’ve ever felt embarrassment toward this topic, I’ve really only been proud of him.”
Forbes hopes that is story can help bring sexual abuse into a larger conversation and that schools can address the issue in their curriculums much like they handle bullying.
“You see bullying - you can, you can name it,” he said. “But this is something that happens in the shadows. It happens behind closed doors. It happens when noone’s looking, so it’s more subtle, more insidious and it’s harder to know.”
Said his wife Alison, “It’s not just about Jamie. It’s not just about our family. It’s not just about Milton Academy. It’s really about a much broader conversation for all victims of sexual abuse and other abuse to somehow reclaim a part of themselves that was taken.”
Forbes said he is pleased with how the current Milton Academy administration is responding to the allegations of sexual abuse so many years ago.
“I think one of the other things that I found motivating and filled with hope in coming forward with my story to Milton was the opportunity I saw for Milton to take not just a role in doing the right thing but actually a role in being a leader, a thought leader in how to move forward in a productive way.” he said.
“How to minimize this issue and how to help other schools and other institutions and society as a whole, and that I found really motivating. The motto of the school is 'Dare to be True,' and, you know, it’s a powerful motto that has never meant as much to me as it does now.”
Milton police and the Norfolk County District Attorney’s Office are asking any other alleged victims to come forward. If you’ve been affected or have relevant information, call Detective Valter Pires at 617-898-4837 or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call the district attorney’s hotline at 781-326-1111.
Sexual assault prevention and recovery resources:
- Sexual Assault Prevention and Survivor Services
- Stop it Now!
- National Child Traumatic Stress Network
- Safe 4 Athletes
- The Enough Abuse Campaign
- Connect Safely
- National Sexual Assault Hotline 800-656-HOPE (4673)