The tall, middle-aged man strode to the microphone in front of approximately 100 citizens in the Belmont High School auditorium Thursday night, Sept. 19.
Wearing loose-fitting jeans, a T-shirt and an unbuttoned shirt combo over a slight paunch, the man could have been any one of the thousands of parents or guardians ready to speak about school fees, the latest round of test scores or if the town can afford a new High School.
He was anything but.
"My name is Carl Peterson. I'm the level 3 sex offender all of you have been talking about," said the 48-year-old Bernard Road resident as the audience sat in rapt silence. Several held a hand to their mouth, others sat forward in their chairs, but all waited on each sentence.
It is extremely rare that a convicted sex offender speaks freely about their crime and the life they attempt to live in a new community.
But at the meeting organized by the Belmont Police Department to inform the public of the sexual offenders registry and safety concerns, Peterson told his new neighbors that they only know the most basic informationregarding him and the reason he was incarcerated for four years
"It seems as though the big reason why we are here tonight is me," said Peterson, a 6-foot, 5-inch, glasses-wearing former Lexington resident, who moved in with his wife and their 14-year-old daughter on Barnard Street in late July.
Read about the public meeting in a related story in Belmont Patch.
"The problem is all you know, all you get to know about my problem is what you read ... which says I'm the most dangerous and the most likely to reoffend of all sex offenders. It also says my offense was the rape against a child," said Peterson, as state officials, law enforcement and Belmont Police, who had spoken earlier, stood silently behind him.
Speaking in a calm, slightly high-pitched voice, Peterson described in the most general terms a single incident, an assault, committed in 1999 in Ohio on his niece, who was under 13 years.
"I don't want to hear this!" a woman cried out from the back of the hall, breaking the tension with the outburst.
"Just go!," said another.
"It happened over the course of a weekend 12 years ago," said Peterson.
"Nobody cares," came another response.
But for the majority in the hall, Peterson's admission was compelling.
"This is important," explained a resident, who said she came to the meeting not knowing anything about Peterson or even the issue of a level 3 sex offender living in town.
"Whoever is uncomfortable, we respect that. But we are being told that we need to be knowledgeable to protect our children," she said, adding that she wanted to hear what "Mr. Peterson" had to say.
"I'm shocked what I'm hearing but I want to hear it," she said to the applause of many.
"It's not important what I did," said Peterson, to the derision of some.
"What's important is that I'm not the victim. I'm a sex offender and I committed a crime and I did spend four years in prison for," he said.
"You were charged with rape," answered a resident.
"The problem with that word is when I hear [it] and [the phrase] a sex offender likely to reoffend, what I hear is 'a pedophile.' That word has been tossed around ... That is not what happened in my case," said Peterson, who again told the audience about the incident and his immediate confession to the parents and law enforcement.
"It scared me when this happened. Before this happened, I would have said and meant it, 'I would never have an offense against a child. That wasn't who I am.' But the problem was I did have an offense against a child," he said.
"One of the scariest thing while spending time in prison was wondering ... that it will not happen again," said Peterson, saying that he has been in therapy for the past eight years with Dr. Carol Ball, a licensed psychologist in Arlington and a founder of New England Forensic Associates, "to answer that question."
"At this point, I know that it will never happen again," said Peterson.
"You don't,” he said.
"There is nothing that I can say that says 'You don't have to worry about me,'" he stated. "One thing I can say is I will answer any questions you have ever," including how his therapy is placing safeguards to prevent another act from occurring.
He discussed initiating meetings with Belmont High School Principal Dr. Dan Richards and is church's pastor (long-time educator, former Watertown High School Headmaster Steve Watson) on "the kind of things that scare people" about him.
"I don't want to scare people," said Peterson. "You are afraid of me and I hate that. There's not a whole lot that I can do about that, except some of the things I can do," such as not talking or "hanging out" with children and informing all their friends and the parents of his daughter's friends about him and his past.
Peterson said his crime was against a family member, not "running down the street and see some children." The question whether I should be living near a preschool is a question that is more asked in general" about convicted sex offenders like Peterson.
"My crime was not against pre-school children or somebody I didn't know or lots of lots of children. It was against my niece," said Peterson.
"If you have serious questions, talk to me," he said.
Peterson and his wife, who sat next to him at the meeting, said they are not immune to the fears of those who wish to harm children.
"I'm a parent. I have a 14-year-old daughter. On the first day of school, a white SUV showed up and approached a child. I'm a level 3 sex offender; it scared me to death. We talked about this to our daughter. I talked to this about my wife. What happened is the kid did not get picked up. He knew exactly what to do. The kid said 'This is not OK' and went away and told the police. There's not much else [parents] can do except [talk to their own children] about being safe," Peterson said.
At the end of the meeting, as the audience was leaving, a smartly-dressed man came up to Peterson, shook his hand and said it was a "brave" thing for him to acknowledge what he did and present himself to the town.
Peterson simply nodded and stared straight ahead.