YMCA issues statement about child rape case

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Update:

The Greater Wichita YMCA released a statement to its members about the alleged rape of a 4-year-old at the downtown YMCA.

Dear YMCA family,

I come to you with a heavy heart today as we all struggle with the recent allegations against a former YMCA employee.

I wanted to share directly with you, our Y family and community, updated information pertaining to this alleged incident at the Downtown YMCA.  Please understand first and foremost that we know you are as shocked and devastated by these allegations as we are.

Our prayers and thoughts are with the family, and we thank you for the prayers and support you have already shown for the family and the Y.

It’s important that we let you know we are working closely with the police in their investigation while also taking action as quickly as possible.

In reviewing that information, here are some details we feel are important to share with you, to help assure you that the YMCA takes this situation very seriously and that we are and continue to be a safe place for your family.

First, we want to let you know that Mr. Gaston was a part-time employee with the Y starting in 2013. When he was hired, he underwent our rigid employment processes, including a background and reference check. At this time, his employment has been terminated and he is not permitted on YMCA premises.

We also want you to know that there are cameras in every Kid Zone. These cameras are recording whenever there is activity in the Kid Zone. In addition, during the time of the alleged incident at the Downtown YMCA, there were additional staff present in the Kid Zone.

I also want to apologize to you for the delay in reaching out to you.

We truly value you as YMCA members and participants. However, our communication priority for the past two days has been reaching out to parents of children who may have had interactions with Mr. Gaston. We have been working to identify and notify these families. If your family had interactions with Mr. Gaston and we have not yet contacted you, we apologize.

It is our current understanding that this allegation is an isolated incident at the Y. However, we want to make sure this is the case. If you feel your child may have had interaction with Mr. Gaston, we have set up a web page to both help you identify signs and symptoms of abuse and guide you through having those tough conversations with your child. You can access this information at ymcawichita.org/talk.

This web page also includes information on who to contact at the YMCA if you have any questions as well as how to notify the Wichita Police Department’s Exploited and Missing Children Unit should the conversation with your child give you cause for concern.

Please know that we are continuing to evaluate our processes and procedures because we take safety very seriously. We will continue to share as much information as we can, as quickly as we possibly can and directly to you.

We are heartbroken by these allegations and please join us with prayers for the family during this difficult time.

Thank you as always for being part of our Y family.

Ronn McMahon
President and CEO, Greater Wichita YMCA


Previous Story:

It's a parent's worst nightmare to learn that someone who they trusted to take care of their child hasn't. Jeni Schnake is one of many parents that unknowingly left their children in the hands of an accused rapist.

She says when she heard the news she felt shock.

"Absolute panic. I have spoken with some of the detectives that were investigating this to see what I needed to do for my children. My oldest is 2 and half," Schnake said. "She's pretty verbal for 2 and half but she can't tell me if something like that were to happen."

Schnake recalls seeing Caleb Gaston, the man charged with raping a 4-year-old at the downtown YMCA.

 "I have handed my child to him and my sister's kids to him. My daughter liked him which is very alarming in and of itself. He was friendly with the kids. He was never inappropriate from what I saw," she said.

KAKE News called and visited the Downtown YMCA asking to get in contact with the director or spokesperson but they declined to comment about the case.

While the Greater Wichita YMCA did issue a statement yesterday acknowledging the ongoing investigation, parents say that's not enough.

Schnake said, "I haven't received anything and they didn't say anything while I was there.  So, are you really trying to contact parents?"

Gaston worked at both the downtown and east locations. Parents like Schnake fear there may be other victims who come forward.

She said, "She'll never go to a daycare again. Two-year-olds cannot speak for themselves, six-month-olds cannot speak for themselves. Who is going to advocate for kids?  That is the Y's responsibility."

The Kansas Department of Health and Environment is responsible for licensing child care in the state. However, YMCA Kid Zones do not fall into the category of having to be licensed. That’s because the YMCA Kid Zone is considered a drop-off program. It would be up to the business, in this case the YMCA, to hire and do background checks on its employees.

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