Pedophile's visit shocks school brass Vietnam vet, ex-policeman was a Veterans Day speaker Posted by the Asbury Park Press on 11/18/05 BY EDDIE HOLLOWELL AND JOSEPH SAPIA STAFF WRITERS FREEHOLD TOWNSHIP — A convicted pedophile — whose background was apparently unknown to school officials — addressed kindergartners to fifth-graders at a Veterans Day program at a township school earlier this week. William R. Egerton, 66, convicted in 1990 of sexual assault for fondling four girls ages 10 to 15 in his home while he was serving as a Freehold Borough police officer, was one of five members of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 4374 presenting the program to an estimated 600 students at Joseph J. Catena Elementary School Tuesday. Egerton, who lives in Monroe, is listed as a "Tier 2/Moderate" sex offender on the State Police's New Jersey Sex Offender Internet Registry, a Web site. Superintendent of Schools Catherine Snyder and Catena School Principal Neal Dickstein said they were unaware of Egerton's background until a reporter called them Thursday. "I'm honestly shocked," Dickstein said. "When you call an organization such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars, this is the last thing to expect." "There was no way, from my perspective, we would know this person is a sex offender," said Snyder, who said the VFW originally had contacted the district about making a presentation. "We invited the VFW, we didn't invite (a) sex offender into our school." "Oh, my God," Vince Diomede said Thursday night. He organizes outside activities for the VFW post. "We're not proud of this fact. This has really upset me." Previously, there was just some "vague rumor" of Egerton's past, said Diomede, who has been active in the post for about five years. "Half of the rumors you hear, you can't believe anyway," Diomede said, adding that Egerton would be removed from a roster of post members going to schools. "He's not going to any schools, that's it," Diomede said. "I can't believe this." Maintains innocence In a brief telephone interview Wednesday night before declining further comment, Egerton said: "I really don't want to say anything about it. I'm trying to keep my life and get on with it. It's hard enough as it is. "I'm just trying to lead a regular life," Egerton said. "There's so many different things you can't do (because of being a convicted sex offender)." Egerton said he is "trying to maintain my innocence because I didn't do this." He said he is bitter over what happened to him. Egerton, who was a Freehold police officer for 16 years before resigning in 1990 as a lieutenant, served a sentence at the Adult Diagnostic and Treatment Center, a prison for sex offenders in Woodbridge's Avenel section, from 1991 to 1997, said Matt Schuman, a state Department of Corrections spokesman. No one from the Monmouth County Prosecutor's Office returned telephone calls Thursday. As Catena School let out Thursday afternoon, Assistant Principal Kristen Higgins walked around the parking lot explaining the situation to parents. Some parents, requesting anonymity to protect their children, said they were "surprised" to hear it would be possible for school officials to unknowingly invite a sex offender into the building. Parents also expressed confidence that their children were safe and that Egerton was supervised while in the building. "People will read this, and they'll be shocked, but they know we have procedures in place to protect their kids," Higgins said. Christina Smith, the mother of daughters in second and fourth grades, said she does not blame school officials. "There was no reason for the Catena School to be looking for a sex offender," Smith said. "The security is overwhelmingly wonderful. I would not place blame on them (school officials)." Never alone with students Egerton's visit to the school came to light when an Asbury Park Press reporter who covered the Veterans Day program later mentioned his name to another Press reporter, who recognized it. On Tuesday, Egerton, a Vietnam veteran, and four other members of the Freehold Township VFW post spoke to the students about their roles in wartime. They discussed some military terms, the differences between each branch of the military and military duties. Students gathered in five separate sessions. Egerton, who is a retired Army master sergeant, passed around his helmet to let students heft it. Egerton was never alone with students, Dickstein said. The VFW had contacted the school district about a month ago offering to have members speak in schools, Superintendent Snyder said. VFW members — but not Egerton — then met with school district supervisors about programming, Dickstein said. Dickstein then directed Higgins to contact the VFW about coming in. Catena School has 615 students, and the entire student body attended the program, Dickstein said. The program would not have been scheduled had she known about Egerton, Snyder said. "We were working with what we believed is a reputable organization," Snyder said. "The VFW is really the group that bears responsibility."