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Thousands at Penn State honor alleged sex abuse victims

The arduous task of rebuilding Penn State's shattered image began Friday with a pledge by the board of trustees to search for the truth amid an unfolding child sex-abuse case.
People gather in front of the Old Main building for a candlelight vigil on the Penn State campus Friday in State College, Pa. The vigil is being held in support of the alleged victims of a child sex abuse scandal involving a former assistant football coach.Matt Rourke / AP
/ Source: NBC, and news services

The arduous task of rebuilding Penn State's shattered image began Friday with a pledge by the board of trustees to search for the truth and continued at night with a candlelight vigil by thousands supporting victims of an unfolding child sex abuse case.

The scandal involving a former assistant football coach has already claimed the jobs of coach Joe Paterno and the school's president.

In front of an overflow crowd at a meeting that was moved from a hotel boardroom to a ballroom to accommodate more people, the trustees opened with Chairman Steve Garban welcoming the replacement president, Rod Erickson, and Gov. Tom Corbett, who had pressed publicly for fast action by trustees accustomed to deferring to Spanier.

The meeting was the first public gathering of the 32-member board in the wake of the scandal that has gripped one of the nation's largest universities and touched off a violent student demonstration. In addition to the firing of Paterno and President Graham Spanier, an assistant coach who told his bosses in 2002 that he saw an assault was placed on administrative leave Friday.

Garban pledged to support Erickson — the trustees removed the "interim" tag on his new title but will continue to search for a permanent successor to Spanier — as the board works "for the future of this institution that we respect and love." Erickson, previously the university's longtime provost, said Penn State must devote itself to its core values — honesty, integrity, excellence and community — now more than ever.

"I know we can do this. We are resilient; we are a university that will rebuild the trust and confidence that so many people have had in us for so many years," Erickson said in a six-minute speech to the trustees.

Without mentioning Spanier or Paterno, Erickson told trustees that their deliberate and decisive action had set a course for the university's future. His heart aches for the victims and their families, he said, and he pledged to reassure Penn Staters that the university's future is still bright.

Paterno and Spanier were fired Wednesday in the fallout of a shocking days-old grand jury report alleging repeated, illicit contact between retired assistant coach Jerry Sandusky and boys as young as 10 over a span of 15 years, sometimes in Penn State's facilities.

The grand jury report said that administrators did not contact law enforcement authorities after a graduate assistant for the football team said he saw Sandusky sodomizing a boy of about 10 years old in the locker room showers at the team's practice center in 2002. Top school officials, including Paterno and Spanier, say they weren't told about the seriousness of the matter.

Sandusky has been aware of the accusations against him for about three years and has maintained his innocence, his lawyer has said.

Candlelight vigil
Candles, not police lights, lit Penn State's campus Friday night as thousands of students and supporters gathered for the victims in the child sex abuse scandal.

Penn State senior and vigil organizer Jessica Sever said she wanted the vigil to put the focus back on the boys, especially after police had to break up a violent student rally touched off by Wednesday's firing of Paterno.

"I'm really glad we could come together and focus our attention on something positive which is support for those victims who have been hurt so badly," Rebecca Miller, junior, told NBC Philadelphia.

"We don't condone what happened and those events. We want to separate ourselves from that and really establish the name of Penn State," said Alex Smith, junior.

Obama weighs in
President Barack Obama said Friday evening that the Penn State sex abuse scandal should lead to "soul-searching" by all Americans, not just Penn State.

He told Westwood One Radio, during a halftime broadcast from the USS Carl Vinson during the N. Carolina-Michigan State basketball game being played on the aircraft carrier, that when people see someone mistreated, they must step up

"Our first priority is protecting our kids, and we all have a responsibility — we can't leave it to a system, we can't leave it to somebody else. Each of us has to take it upon ourselves to make sure that our kids have the love and support and protection that they deserve," he said.

Failure under investigation
The Penn State board adjourned Friday after forming an investigative committee, to be headed by trustee Kenneth Frazier, the CEO of pharmaceutical company Merck, to dig into the university's failure to stop Sandusky's alleged activity. Ronald Tomalis, a trustee and state education secretary, will be vice chairman.

The rest of the committee has yet to be formed, but Frazier said it will have the power to hire independent lawyers and plans to publicly release the entirety of its findings.

"That's absolutely what we intend to do," Frazier said after the meeting. "The purpose of this investigation is to ensure that the public understands everything that we learn in this investigation and a report will be made completely public as quickly as we possibly can."

The university as a whole, however, has a long way to go before anything can be considered routine now that Paterno, whose 46 years leading the Nittany Lions turned him into an icon in the area known as Happy Valley and beyond, is gone. The school named defensive coordinator Tom Bradley interim coach on Thursday.

Paterno's firing touched off a violent student rally late Wednesday night, requiring police in riot gear, at times using pepper spray, to disperse about 2,000 who took to the streets and toppled a television news van.

The university's faculty senate on Friday called on students and employees to "act in ways that bring honor to our institution and ourselves."

Sandusky served as Paterno's top defensive assistant for more than two decades and at one time was considered his heir apparent. But he abruptly retired in 1999, about a year after university police investigated a complaint by the mother of a woman upset that Sandusky had showered with and bear-hugged her 11-year-old son, the grand jury report alleged.

Authorities said Sandusky met many of his alleged victims through The Second Mile, a charity he founded in 1977 to help at-risk youth.

Two face perjury charges
Former athletic director Tim Curley and former university vice president Gary Schultz have been charged with perjury and failure to report the 2002 assault, as required by state law. Lawyers for the men say that they are innocent, that they told the truth to the grand jury and that they told Spanier what they knew, fulfilling their legal obligation.

Penn State head coach Joe Paterno (R) talks with assistant coach Mike McQueary during the fourth quarter of the Capital One Bowl NCAA football game against Louisiana State University in Orlando, Florida, in this January 1, 2010 file photo. McCreary has been identified as the graduate assistant who said he saw former PSU defensive coordinator Gerald “Jerry” Sandusky sexually assaulting a boy in March 2002, according to a New York Times report on November 7, 2011. REUTERS/Scott Audette/Files (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL CRIME LAW)Scott Audette / X01879

About a week and a half after the 2002 incident, the graduate assistant — identified by people familiar with the investigation as Mike McQueary, now the team's wide receivers coach — met with Curley and Schultz, and told them he had witnessed what he believed to be Sandusky having sex with a boy, the grand jury report said.

McQueary was placed on administrative leave Friday, Erickson said, and won't be coaching at Saturday's game against Nebraska because he has received threats. McQueary, during a conference call with players and his replacement, revealed he was no longer in State College and was in protective custody at a secluded location, the Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa., reported.

Spanier told the grand jury that Schultz and Curley went to him and reported an incident that made a member of Curley's staff "uncomfortable."

"Spanier described it as 'Jerry Sandusky in the football building locker area in the shower ... with a younger child and they were horsing around in the shower,'" the grand jury report said.

Paterno, major college football's winningest coach, has said he wasn't told "the very specific actions" contained in the grand jury report, but he also has acknowledged that "with the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more."

Paterno hires attorney
NBC News National Investigative Correspondent Michael Isikoff reported that Paterno had reached out to a prominent Washington criminal defense lawyer to represent him in the case. A source close to Paterno told Isikoff that the former coach was concerned about the possibility that Sandusky's alleged victims and their families could bring civil lawsuits against him.

Scott Paterno, son of Joe Paterno, confirmed the Isikoff report Friday.

"Like everyone who has watched this story unfold, my father is experiencing a range of powerful emotions," the younger Paterno said, NBC News reported. "He is absolutely distraught over what happened to the children and their families. He also wants very much to speak publicly and answer questions."

"At this stage, however, he has no choice but to be patient and defer to the legal process. He cooperated fully with the Grand Jury and he will continue to cooperate with the investigation as we move forward."

"On behalf of my father, I have retained Wick Sollers at the law firm of King and Spalding. My father's desire is for the truth to be uncovered and he will work with his lawyers to that end."

Sandusky home vandalized
Meanwhile, police were investigating apparent vandalism at the house of Sandusky, according to NBC News.

A police report stated that an unidentified person threw two cinder blocks through a bedroom window of the house on Friday. No one was hurt and there were no immediate arrests.

Police would not say if anyone was in the house at the time.

The Penn State Athletic Department said Friday it would increase security measures at all home athletic events through Sunday, NBC News reported.

Bags of any sort, including purses, will not be permitted at the Bryce Jordan Center, Greenburg Ice Pavilion, Jeffrey Field and Rec Hall, it said.

For Saturday's football game against Nebraska, fans were encouraged to arrive earlier than usual as inspections will be more deliberate and thorough and the university's regulation on bags will be strictly enforced, officials said.

Texas investigation under way
Prosecutors in Texas also have opened an investigation into the possibility of filing charges against Sandusky, police have said.

The move followed the release of grand jury testimony indicating Sandusky may have sexually assaulted one of his young victims when the Penn State team was in San Antonio for the 1999 Alamo Bowl.

"We are looking into the possibility that an offense may have happened in San Antonio," San Antonio Police Sergeant Chris Benavides said.

Unsealed grand jury testimony in the Sandusky case in Pennsylvania indicates that a now 27-year-old man described in the transcript as "Victim Number Four" testified he was brought to San Antonio as part of the "Sandusky family party" to watch the Nittany Lions beat Texas A&M in the 1999 Alamo Bowl.