Corey Leech was a brother, athlete and nurse.
But, as the young man lived all those rewarding roles, he also battled demons, self-medicating himself as he tried to deal with the emotional torment of having allegedly been sexually abused by Brother Stephen Baker.
A reported serial predator, Baker was accused of abusing maybe more than 100 students during the years he spent as an uncertified athletic trainer at Bishop McCort High School in Johnstown where Leech attended.
A little more than a year ago, Leech anonymously testified about his alleged abuse during a preliminary hearing for three friars accused of conspiracy and endangering the welfare of children.
Baker was given assignments that provided him access to children, even though, as the state contends, they knew he posed a threat to them.
On Friday, Leech, who was born on March 29, 1986, was discovered dead in a Richland Township apartment complex of a still undetermined cause, pending toxicology results, according to the Cambria County Coroner’s Office. He was 31.
“Turns out, Corey was one of many children victimized by this man,” according to an obituary published in The Tribune-Democrat on Saturday.
“When his years of private torment became national news, Corey made an uncommonly brave decision. He chose to testify. He wanted to prevent other children from living his nightmare. While he did more than his share to help others, it was too late for Corey. His nightmare was inescapable. Years of abuse by this clergyman destroyed Corey’s faith. The house of God no longer provided any solace for Corey, so he sought peace the only way he could, through substance abuse.”
Baker was not mentioned by name in the obituary that explained how Leech endured “years of private suffering” after he “was introduced to a ‘man of the cloth,’ a predator, who aimed to take advantage of a trusting, handsome and athletic boy.”
Leech, the third-eldest of 10 brothers, was an avid sports fan, having played baseball, basketball and football at Bishop McCort. He also joined the baseball team at Mount Aloysius College, where he graduated magna cum laude from the nursing program.
Leech then went on to be a professional nurse, a career that provided him the opportunity to help babies who were “smaller than his hand,” according to the obituary.
“Although you do not know me, Corey has had a huge impact on our lives,” wrote an individual identified as Danielle Owens in Leech’s online obituary guestbook. “He was one of our daughter’s RICN nurses. My husband and I adored him. He was one of our favorite nurses! He loved his job, and the tiny babies he helped.
“We will forever be grateful of his nursing skills that helped save our tiny 1lb baby.
“We even have a picture of him holding her in his hand! We laughed so hard because she fit perfectly in his hand. I am so sorry for your loss. He was an amazing person! Our prayers are with your family!”
Baker reportedly committed suicide in January 2013 by stabbing himself in the heart.
An investigation into his actions resulted in a grand jury report in which the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General accused the Roman Catholic Diocese of Altoona–Johnstown of carrying out a decades-long coverup of clergy abuse.
The case against the three ministers provincial from the Third Order Regular, Province of the Immaculate Conception – Revs. Giles A. Schinelli, Robert J. D’Aversa, and Anthony M. Criscitelli – is scheduled to continue with oral arguments this June in the Blair County Courthouse.
Their lawyers are attempting to get the charges dismissed.
Leech testified Baker abused him at the school and TOR monastery.
“I can’t even imagine the kind of courage it took for him to testify at that hearing,” said Robert Hoatson, founder of Road to Recovery, a nonprofit designed to help victims of clergy sexual abuse.
“He was so private about it, even to the very end.”
Hoatson, a victim of child sexual abuse himself, explained that problems with drugs can be one of the ways victims attempt to handle the abuse. He encourages victims to seek therapy in order to “unleash the albatross” that burdens them.
In lieu of flowers, the Leech family asks supporters to send donations to Road to Recovery, P.O Box 279, Livingston, N.J. 07039.