Friday, July 14, 2006

Change the Names to Protect the Innocent

A while back, I googled my own name. Because my first name is not a particularly common one in the United States, I was actually surprised at the number of notable people, real and fictional, who share my first and last name. I learned the following people have (or had) the same first and last name that I do:
  • The director of the Pacific Garden Rescue Mission in Chicago who was responsible for the conversion of a baseball player named Billy Sunday, who became the Billy Graham of his day.
  • The character portrayed by Richard Pryor in the movie Stir Crazy.
  • An on air personality who works for Voice of America.
And then there is one more. I am glad that I knew a little bit about it from Google, as it prepared me somewhat for a visit I received last night.

A person who has the same first and last name as I do is a former Catholic priest who has been accused of molesting young boys in Indiana between 1979 and 1984. 11 lawsuits have been filed against him to date.

Last night, around 6:30 p.m., my phone rang. After asking for me, the caller identified himself as a reporter for the Indianapolis Star. He wanted to ask me some questions. I was confused at first as to why he would want to talk to me, but I remembered my Google finding about the same time that he realized that this was going much too easily and that I might be the wrong guy. He apologized for bothering me, and explained that no one was sure where the child molester lived, but that it was commonly believed that he lived somewhere in Nashville. Because he has never been convicted of a crime, he doesn't have to register as a sex offender.

Oh, great. I had previously had some fear about name association when I read about him in another state. Here in the same city as me? I groaned.

The reporter then had a request. He now explained that he was at the entrance of the apartment complex I had just moved into. He had driven all of the way from Indianapolis based on finding my newly listed address and phone number. Would I mind if he just came by to look at me to confirm I am not the perpetrator?

I figured my choices were to meet him or to have someone waiting outside my door to see me, so I said I would do so. I told him that I would be standing outside the apartment when he drove up. He asked what I looked like. I'm in my 40's, have brown hair....

He interrupted, telling me if I had hair I wasn't the guy he was looking for.

The reporter and I talked briefly. He looked close to my age -- a little younger perhaps-- and he actually seemed like a nice guy, though he was obviously disappointed. He was going to be headed back to Indianapolis, but he had one more request:

Would I let him see my driver's license? He needed to make sure I wasn't someone that was sent out to cover for the real one.

I shook my head in disbelief and pulled out my wallet. He looked at my license, half chuckled, and, realizing that his whole day had been a wasted effort, said, "Well, there you have it."

In some ways, the incident was amusing at first, but the more I think about it, the more I am frightened by the whole thing. I was still in high school when that man began abusing boys as a priest, so clearly there is no way that a rational person could confuse me with him. But what about an irrational one? Could the association of name and place impact my professional life if people I am working with from a distance hear a story and draw a wrong conclusion? Will someone else find my address the same way that the reporter did and assume that I am the perpetrator? Is it possible that I will open my door some morning and see a shotgun pointed at my face? Will they take time to look? If I protest, will they believe me?

I don't blame the reporter for raising these concerns. He's doing his job. I suspect that in preparing his series of stories that he has heard heart wrenching stories of the aftermath of abuse. But, this has scared me. It has scared me a lot.


John H said...

I'm so sorry about this mis-identification. I don't think there is a more decent person in Nashville than the author of The Monroe Document. I would hope that even though your name is not all that common that people would understand that there certainly is more than one, and that given the nature of what 'another one' did they would be very careful before they made assumptions.

For a long time there was a Metro Homicide detective with my exact name, including spelling. I got a few interesting and one or two scary phone calls because of this. Certainly not in the same league as your mis-identification, but I do understand.

mike said...

One evening I received a call from a man who immediately began to berate me for having an affair with his married sister. He was very angry and hinted at, but did not actually threaten, violence.

When I asked him who he was looking for, since I have never had an affair, he paused and asked my name and where I worked. I told him and he quickly apologised. I had the same name as the man he was looking for, but we worked for different companies. He apologised again and hung up.

It was odd as my last name is pretty uncommon. But I was pretty shaken and kept watching out the window, just in case the guy decided I was lying to him.

newscoma said...

That is terrifying.
It would have freaked me out as well.

mary said...

That is scary. In high school one of my brothers often got mixed up with a classmate, even tho' the last names were spelled differently. People are quick to jump to wrong conclusions.

carlo79 said...

I experienced that experience before when I tried to log on to an online service and I thougth I could just use my name as username instead I was shocked to find out there were dozens using my name and when added my second name it was still the same. Spooky.

Anonymous said...

I take a class with a girl who's name is the same as mine and the professor always mixes us up.I hate it cause' it's spookie