Saving Aaron Vargas – It May be Too Late

by Mike Geniella, February 22, 2010

I don’t know Fort Bragg carpenter Todd Rowan, but I admire him. In a few short remarks quoted Sunday in the San Francisco Chronicle, Rowan got to the core of the creepy case involving Aaron Vargas, who’s facing a first-degree murder charge for killing his sexual abuser.

“Maybe if we’d all talked more back then, it would have never come to all this,” said Rowan.

Rowan knows the agony that gripped Aaron Vargas because he too was sexually abused by the same man – Darrell McNeil, a 62-year-old Fort Bragg businessman. So apparently were a dozen other men who have stepped forward and told of their own abuse at the hands of the former Boy Scout leader.

“I went through hell because of that man,” said Rowan about McNeill.

Thanks to earlier in-depth reporting of Freda Moon of TheAVA.com, coverage of the Vargas case is now drawing media attention from around the state and across the nation. In following up on Moon’s work, the Chronicle’s front-page story Sunday focused on widespread community sympathy for the 32-year-old Vargas on the eve of his murder trial. It’s scheduled to begin March 22.

Even McNeil’s wife, Liz, and some family members are supportive of Vargas. Liz McNeil said she doesn’t want Vargas locked up for the rest of his life.

“I do not condone what he did. He just needs help. I’ve known him most of his life, and I still love the kid,” said McNeil.

At first glance the Vargas case seemed an open-and-shut murder. He admitted taking an antique pistol with him to McNeil’s home last February, but said he intended to only scare his abuser so he would stop contacting him. Vargas allegedly loaded the pistol after arriving at McNeil's residence. Prosecutors insist Vargas went with an intent to kill McNeil, and note that he disassembled the murder weapon while waiting 30 minutes or so for his victim to die.

Vargas’ subsequent stories of sexual abuse at the hands of McNeil beginning at age 11, however, have won over the hearts of many in the coastal community. So have the horrid tales from others, including carpenter Rowan.

Rowan said he took his complaints about McNeil to the Fort Bragg police nine years ago, but nothing happened.

Rowan described to Chronicle reporter Kevin Fagan a pattern all too familiar in sexual abuse cases.

“Darrell was very smart about what he did, very persuasive, real friendly.”

“He’d pick out guys like me who were loners, or vulnerable, and have us over to drink beer or smoke pot. Then when you were stoned, he’d go at you.”

Although Rowan eventually was able to fend McNeill off, his personal life was marked by years of substance abuse and suicide attempts.

For Rowan, his life has taken a turn for the better. “I’m now with a great woman and I’m clean and sober, but it’s still hard to talk about this.”

Vargas, a 32-year-old handyman, faces an uncertain future. Prosecutors argue that whatever happened in the past doesn’t negate a deliberate act of murder.

Maybe so. A jury will soon decide.

But Rowan’s observations on Sunday about the horrors of sexual abuse cases, and how communities typically react to them, are haunting.

“Look, up here this is a redneck town. Nobody would believe you about this stuff,” said Rowan.

23 Responses to Saving Aaron Vargas – It May be Too Late

  1. Mindy Reply

    February 22, 2010 at 10:29 am

    Thank you for writing this. Freda was the first to show up to the courthouse and cover this case. A reporter from the UDJ was the only other reporter to show up and he never asked anyone any questions. I offered him interviews with my family, Liz, and Todd, as well as court documents that I have copies of, but he wasn’t interested (same with the FB Advocate). Freda has given it the attention that it deserves. She has done the work and written stories of substance. I do have to point out something. Aaron did not load the gun prior to going to McNeill’s home. Aaron always kept the gun loaded with one bullet. The detectives assumed that he loaded it just before going to McNeill’s. An assumption that conveniently helps the case against Aaron. Aaron hasn’t admitted to shooting him on purpose. Those details have not been discussed yet with anyone other than Aaron’s attorney, but they will be when Aaron testifies during the trial. From what I know, Aaron did not have the intention of killing McNeill. His intentions were to scare him.

  2. shawnee Reply

    February 22, 2010 at 8:25 pm

    I’d like to know where you got your information for this article? and who gave you permission to reprint information on “carpenter rowan”?
    The little town of Fort Bragg and the surrounding area is finally being frighteningly awaken by its wicked past. In ages gone by certain associations would ex-communicate a member or band a member of their society for doings they deemed unworthy of their “laws” but let that member free to roam Fort Bragg’s street’s and become intertwined in cub-scouts, big brothers and other prime children laden associations where they had access to more victims. Instead of doing the right and proper thing and protecting a whole community, and taking the issues to the authorities and having the pervert properly dealt with. Darrell McNeil isn’t the only child molester that lurks amongst our little community and has freely assaulted our children for decades. He is just the only one that finally, pushed one of his victims, to the point of no return and got tired of getting harassed and broke,and couldn’t handle the constant unyielding pressure of their attacker and because no one saw the signs, or believed the cries, or “they wouldn’t do that” attitude, he broke and took matters into his own hands. Yes it is said, and yes like Mr. Rowan has has a trouble life and past, why wasn’t anyone paying attention? Why didn’t anyone take Mr. Rowan’s police report seriously? Was it because of his trouble past? Is it because we feel we must sit in judgment of other people just because of their past, not because of the circumstance that led them there?

    • Amber Cummings Reply

      February 23, 2010 at 4:58 am

      I think it is high time the dark side of Fort Bragg is brought to light. I know of one “Elder” in a local church that molested all of children and grandchildren and nothing has been done because the church told everyone not to report it “God will forgive aything”, they said to me as a child when I wanted to stop him from moesting my friend. I was only eight and I did’t know enough to go to the police on my own, not to mention in Fort Bragg we were taught the police would do nothig-McNeil’s Victims are evidence of this. Fogive is one thing but he is left out there to continue. I fear for all the children of Fort Bragg left in this man’s path.

      • susan Reply

        March 4, 2010 at 11:42 pm

        We need to let lawmakers know we are fed up. Either they do something to change the law with stricter sentences such as Life IN Prison, or they find a new job. If we as parents all stuck together, they would have no choice but to do something.

  3. Trent Foster Reply

    February 26, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    Fort Bragg is certainly an intresting place were seemingly alot of accusations take place, what is even more intrestlng that more and more victims show up and perpetrators revealed!
    Yet could it be that alot of accusations are placed in front of law enforcement that are bogus, clouding the whole picture of who is and who is no a perpt! I mean any one can be called a child molester or stalker, just for the call of character assassination, this can also be done for the drug dealer as well! And what for to strike at the core of a persons livily hood or social statues.
    I know of one case in Fort Bragg were a man was accused of stalking a woman and he was in a live-in drug treatment center with out a car, but was accused of stalking a woman that lived 20 miles out of town, he compounded matters for the worse just wanting to ask her why she was doing this!
    This incident pushed him over the edge.
    News caught on and the story got worse, all I am saying that FB is known for people elaborating stories’ and this must confuse law enforcement, notably when the perp is posing as that good guy that most perps/sociopaths do!
    there is an old saying about Fort Bragg”If you fart on one side of town it stinks even worse on the other”
    The Aron Vargas story is a sad one,I still have not heard had he went to the police or not, but it could be do to the male ego that many men face do to shame did not, I dont know,All I know is that if the people in Fort Bragg who love to gossip would stop then perhaps incidents would be taken more seriously~

    • susan Reply

      March 4, 2010 at 11:51 pm

      When an innocent person is accused of something like this, it hurts the true victims and actually helps sex offenders. It’s sad that the people in your town find it so easy to gossip but is anyone doing anything to solve the problem? Gossip happens everywhere, not just in Fort Bragg. This is an oppurturnity for a town to make a difference and make a statement regarding sex offenders. I am sure Aaron Vargas was molested along with the many many others who came forward. I feel sorry for all of us because we are not moving forward when we ignore victims of this crime, and Aaron Vargas was a victim.

    • Dirk Reply

      March 16, 2010 at 7:55 pm

      Trent Foster said: “I know of one case in Fort Bragg were a man was accused of stalking a woman and he was in a live-in drug treatment center with out a car, but was accused of stalking a woman that lived 20 miles out of town, he compounded matters for the worse just wanting to ask her why she was doing this!”

      Because if it’s the guy I think it is, he WAS stalking her 20 miles outside of town, did it ever occur to you that he could borrow a car???

  4. Mindy Reply

    February 28, 2010 at 11:40 pm

    Trent,
    Children only lie about being raped less than 1% of the time. There is at least one police report from years ago that a victim of McNeill’s filed. Nothing was ever done with that report. Victims of McNeill’s have told family and friends about being abused over the years, but not all reported it, and not all told someone. Victims have signed sworn statements in recent months. I really doubt that a grown man would say that he was sexually abused by another man and sign a statement if it wasn’t true. ALL accusations of sexual abuse should be taken very seriously and should be investigated. I really doubt that the PD is being flooded with reports being that most kids don’t tell anyone when they are abused. Even if a lot of accusations were being made to the PD which were bogus, that is still no excuse for accusations to not be investigated. After all, that is the point of an investigation – to find out if in fact a crime has been committed. I wish more people in town would have talked about McNeill. Then maybe there would be far fewer victims.

  5. Derek Reply

    March 1, 2010 at 12:29 am

    Wow Trent, thats a mighty callow troll, it takes real talent to turn a conversation about this tragedy into a long winded slam on the good people of Fort Bragg.
    Do you feel better now that you’ve trashed a whole town, is that the only power you have in your life, to insult others?

    • Trent Foster Reply

      April 1, 2010 at 2:02 am

      Derek you are absolutly right, I was out of line with the accusations of this whole town, but it isnt the whole town I was wanting to talking about, I was trying to stress a point that if people were to actualy know what they were talking about and not spread rumors then when a true crime came up or allegations there of, it just might be taken seriously! This happen’s in all towns.
      Let me give you an example above Dirk comments ” Because if it is the guy I think it is he WAS stalking her 20 miles out side of town, did it ever occure to you that he could borrowe a car???”
      This is pure extrapolation and not based on any facts, first of all he has no idea of who I am talking about, he just assumes that he does, the very fact that he asked “did it ever occure to you that he could borrow a car???” tell’s you this, if Derek had a known fact that this person had borrowed a car no question would be asked!
      Let me remind you of a case of a pre school that was accused of witch craft and child molestation in Fort Bragg, because of these rumors people were threatened !The lifes of the day care personel and owners, were at risk, to the point they had to leave town, then they were dragged through the court system, there lifes were ruined and from what I hear still are to this day!
      It turned out that this allegation was not true and based on rumors and lies, they won in court, but they lost in pride!
      It is actions like this that shall discount and fog the veiws of law enforcement!
      Mindy I did not say that children lie about molestation, what I did say is this that the frail male ego, has a hard time accepting the fact that a molestation has happend!
      I am sure Mc Niell was reported but being the good guy that he played out must have been confusing to law enforcement, based on past incidents like the one I mention above.
      Yes my rant was over genralising, but done so as to stress a point!
      I apologies to the good people of Fort Bragg, that I upset you!
      That is the good people! And let me add this at one time or another I have made my mistakes as well.

  6. susan Reply

    March 4, 2010 at 11:38 pm

    When will there be stricter laws regarding sex offenders? I recently was watching Nancy Grace cover the story of the 17 yeat old California highschool jogger. A sex offender is most likely being charged with her murder. Do you think Aaron Vargas would be sitting at home with his family right now if this inhuman creep who molested him (and many others for years) was in jail where he belonged. Sex offenders need to stay in jail or get the death penalty. WE AS Parents Need To Let Lawmakers Know We Are Fed Up. We want these sex offenders locked up for good and keep them away from our kids.

  7. Herb Ruhs, MD Reply

    March 16, 2010 at 12:35 pm

    As a former resident and practicing pediatrician in Fort Bragg, and as a once court qualified expert in child abuse in California courts, my feeling is that this case is a sentinel event for the Fort Bragg community. It could be a signpost to deeper decay or a departure point for renewal.

    From my personal experience, underscored by a relentless series of outrageous crimes reported on from the community, there seems to be a great pool of rot in the community that is protected by a shadowy local power structure. If the community allows gross injustices to continue without confronting the political arrangements that allow them to happen, it will only grow worse, more and more extreme crime and violence will ensue, and it will become exponentially more difficult to deal with over time.

    Career child abusers thrive in places that tolerate petty corruption and “good old boy” impunity. The most dramatic example of this occurred a number of years ago in Grey Bull, Wyoming, where it was discovered that the Boy Scout leader of this small town (about the size of FB) had molested three generations of boys. This was discovered only by virtue of the bravery of a couple of adults who had been molested as young boys had the courage to report crimes that had taken place many years before. It takes a lot of courage to report in these situations because victims can be guaranteed to be treated badly by the community in defense of “good citizens” with whom they have political ties.

    It is the politics that is the root of the problem. Corrupt politics creates the potential for serial molesters to worm their way into the system, trade favors, and earn the right to continue their molestation unmolested. In the worst case, as is true in some counties in California, they end up running the government.

    If Fort Bragg really does want to get beyond this sort of thing the traditional power structures of wealth and influence will need to be aired out and the rotten parts taken down. Otherwise Fort Bragg will continue to be a source for these sensational stories.

    In particular, has anyone in the Police Department been asked to explain why they did not follow up on the original complaint? If so, I doubt that any answers were forthcoming, or, if offered, were honest. That is how it is in a corrupt political culture.

  8. Justin Case Reply

    April 2, 2010 at 2:04 am

    “All men are created equal” But it turns out that some are created more equal than others!
    Such things as diplomatic immunity, where as a diplomate can get drunk and waist an intire family with his car and walk away with out so much as sending a get well card to the funeral!
    What about that dutch dude in Aruba, a diplomats son, who it is said raped and killed that girl on the beach. What ever happend to him?
    Let us look at the young man that was a city councile member in Fort Bragg, spun out of his gord on meth, who pushed his girl friend out of the car and tried to run over her head, this young man was chased down by the police, the then interm DA excused the case. While at the same time tried to prosecute some buddy over the hill for trying to save some mountain lion cubs.
    i have done had it up to my ever forgiving neck, with them that do not have enough sense to polish a penny. Why is it that i must be pulled over by the police when i drives my car for no reason at all, just because i drive a car that will not meet the codes of the rich. it is a crying shame that we all can nots be treeated like common folks.
    Them police say it is about to serve and protect, but when my car does break downs where are they to help me, no it is a darn fact that they shall puts a burden on me to tow this car befors i can take care of its my self, they will drive by and paid no attention to me but the momments i leaves they put a tows on it.
    This poor fella that shot this guy for putten hands on him in a way that was not meant to be by our good lord, most likely had a spell that done put him over the edge, ands to take a old pistol to the cub master to done tells him to stop a callen was a right perfects thing to do, i would a down rights so.
    Justice be damned!

    • Lauren Housley Reply

      April 8, 2010 at 7:30 pm

      The rich and well connected don’t live by the same laws as the common folks. It happens over and over again. Just look at the Katlyn Long case. She died suspiciously while locked in a room with a well connected ex-boyfriend and the sherrif still has NOT questioned him. Her friends and family have waited almost 2 YEARS!! You know darn well that if he was a lowly commoner that he would have been answering some questions about what he did and saw while she died next to him.

  9. Trent Foster Reply

    April 4, 2010 at 3:59 am

    Child molestation does not stop at small towns, were the powers at be are able to cover up the trusted members of society!
    The smallest country, in the world that would be the Vatican, secured by the force of the Swiiss gaurd, a rennzaissancec treasure designed partly by the genious Michelangelo, an huge structure that can easly swallow any gothic cathedral, a pilgramige of thousands of faithful catholic’s find they’re way every year, I am a Roman Catholic and have stared at the marvels as such as the Sistine chapel, A wealthy eminent denomination, and with the vatican, they shall see no seperation between church and state, perhaps perpetuating further scandle, that the youth shall pay! And just to clarify this, it is not all that lay in this catagory, just like your town of Fort Bragg, it is the few that taint the benevolent in order to gain accsess to they,re vicitims..
    Still as we gasp for air of the reports, that even father Flannigan could have been a perp, surronded by gaurds the Pope Benedict XVI secludes him self, from the scandle that shakes the rock “St Peter”, the very foundation of Vatican city!
    There is no escaping this that when our children a being victimised by the very role models we intrust them with. Is it any surprise that we will be in a drug demented community? Just to kill the pain of what being violated is all about.
    And is it true that molesters were once the molested? Further reproducing this sickness?
    I am lucky I was never sexualy violated, do to the fact that I was always quick on my feet, and as a child had a sharp mind. but I know, how it is, I was beaten without mercy, physically and emotionally, to the point were it stole my childhood! and leaves me crippled with arthritus as an adult.
    Exactly as we have read the above writers say, it is high time that we take our future, that is our children away from the sociopathic molesters,and with this call for further back ground checks, and a special need to be done on anyone even alleged to have commited a sexual, emotional or physical violation on any and all children.
    It is a good question why wasnt Mc Niell investigated, and put on Megan’s list?
    How many are still lurking in broad day light, under the disguise of a pillar of society?
    There are to many questions to ask, for there is to little time for Aron Vargas.
    He has not only been robbed of his innocent youth through this violation, but it appears that through a moment of temporary insanity, he pulled a gun and killed Mc Niell! And from this moment of rage caused by being harrased, this perp is going to take his adult life too!

  10. Tom Jeffers Reply

    April 6, 2010 at 10:25 pm

    I was molested as a young kid from age 10 till I was 17 in Southern CA. There were 4 other boys that I later found out about. Point being….these sick bastards are everywhere in everytown in the world. The guy that molested me was my dad’s good friend from work. A “nice, friendly guy”. DO NOT TRUST ANYONE with your kids! These sick molesters are everywhere. I read this whole story about Aaron and started crying taking me back to all my pain. I put myself in his shoes all of his life and up to this very moment of him sitting in a damn jail cell. It just blows me away. God help him and his family

  11. Trent Foster Reply

    April 7, 2010 at 8:44 pm

    Mindy
    I stand corrected, and then again not I have always said that the beautiful women on the coast are a force to be reckon with!
    It is not etched in stone but the empathy and compassion that I fell Miss Linttot has will prevail, my hopes and prayers are with your brother and you!
    Damn it you have done a good job and the world should recognise this, I comend you for all that you have done not only for your brother but every vicitim of assualt and violation, that has claimed the innocense of youth

    • Trent Foster Reply

      April 17, 2010 at 6:57 am

      This is prime!
      The decedents widowed wife wants the photo evidence back of the late Mr Mcniell,So that it is not plasterd all over the news.
      Well as Andy Warhol said we will all have our ” fifteen minutes of fame”
      Sorry about your luck! It should have been plastered all over the sex offenders list year’s ago!
      Come on here we have the face this poor molested guy in an orange jump suit, spread like peanute butter all over the nation, this isnt going to be easy for Aron Vargas, I hope and do see that he will have all the support in the world behind him, his sister alone has been nothing less than a beacon of light and stregnth, during this dark time for him!
      We should all be loved as much so!
      I wish I was there to see this one, the Honorable Ron Brown is amasing to me, his cool calm and collective soft spoken self, refusing to let this happen!
      and my favorite line from him, he says it so well.
      “And without prejudice”
      Again my prayers are with Aron that he gets probation, the last thing that would do any of us any good is to see him go down for ten years. Why take the chance of futhering ruining this guys life.
      It would best serve justice that Aron gets the help that he will need, and this will not be found in prison!

  12. Annon Reply

    April 29, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    What is the Sheriff dept doing now? Have they gone through records to validate other complaints have been investigated? Can the community depend on them? My heart goes out to Aaron and his family. I commend Mindy for her dedication and work on this case. Tears come to my eyes when i think of what Aaron went through. I believe the community should do what Mindy is doing. Lets start to change thing by asking questions. We wamt answers! How many complaints have been subitted to the Sheriff dept? How many have been investigated? What is the protocol? Who is responsible for handling complaints? What can be done IF the entity or person responsible fails to their job?

  13. Annon Reply

    April 29, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    One more comment… I often hear stories of a family friend or family member molesting a child. Most of my friends and I can remember at least one inappropriate incident. Some worse then others… I always ask… Did your parents file a formal complaint? More often then not I am told… Well no, it wasn’t a big deal or it was one time… He/she didn’t suceed. My heart always sinks when I hear this response. It is our responsibility to report even the smallest incident. Abusers don’t just stop their inappropriate behavior if everyone shruggs it off… We owe it to others to document even the smallest incident. Children are at risk… The risk is too high to ignor.

  14. gphx Reply

    June 16, 2010 at 4:33 am

    Reporting such a crime can mean a child having to testify and, in reliving the incidents, being victimized all over again. In small communities the social repercussions can impact them for the rest of their lives. These bastards take advantage of the fact it is one of the few crimes victims themselves work to make sure people don’t know about. I commend those who do report. I doubt it gets any easier just because they happen to be older. Aaron Vargas was further victimized in not receiving a trial by peers which surely would have set him free. Victimized also were other people like Aaron who shared a small peace in the silencing of a serial abuser. The law was followed but justice was not served to anyone.

  15. gphx Reply

    June 16, 2010 at 4:35 am

    Perhaps the next step, if it is a correct one, would be to try to get Arnold to issue a pardon? Sorry, I’m not a lawyer.

  16. Trent Foster Reply

    July 31, 2010 at 1:52 pm

    The Probation dept and the Sheriff’s dept both have claimed that this was a consentual relationship! No tjis is statuatory rape or molestation, there is no consent when the victim is 10, 11 or 13

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