There’s a 15-year-old missing her math class at Bishop Bell Church of England School in Eastbourne, a pretty town right on the English Channel. She’s bunking her classes in history and science, as well, but it’s Megan Stammers’s math class that presents the real problem, because her teacher, 30-year-old Jeremy Forrest, has disappeared, too.
They left together, in what some English journalists refer to as an “elopement”. This is totally inaccurate. In order to elope, you have to be old enough to marry – Megan is not – and eligible to wed. Which Forrest is not. He already has a wife.
Forrest’s brazen actions (Megan, remember, is a minor, and I’ve written before about the enormous difference between adolescent and adult brains and decision-making capabilities) have captured the outrage of British parents. The story has been front-page news ever since last Thursday evening, when they ran for France, together. Picture of them on the Dover-to-Calais ferry – just a stone’s throw from Bishop Bell – have been posted. In them, the two stroll hand-in-hand.
There’s no question that Megan went voluntarily. She was not forced to go. Yet given her age, and the fact that her prefrontal lobe has not fully developed, what she made was less a reasoned choice than an acting-out of impulse. Really, what girl would make a sane, reasoned decision to betray a marriage, leave her parents without even a text message, and go off alone with a man fifteen years her senior, who has already demonstrated his unfitness even to teach by his reckless, opportunistic behavior? There you go.
(Notice to Megan, if you’re reading: Forrest is a jerk. He didn’t have the courtesy or compassion to divorce his wife before getting it on with another female, and as to choosing one of his students . . . sweetheart, that’s why laws and regulations prohibit that opportunistic behavior. Call your mum, now, she desperately wants to give you a hug and a cuddle.)
Now that the two are in France, they have the same opportunities in Schengen Europe as any terrorist or economic migrant on the run. As long as they stay within the Schengen zone, they can travel at will, as if they were going from state to state within America. No border control, no passports needed. If they stay out of sight of locals, they will stay out of the authorities’ reach.
(Notice to Megan: If you can’t even go out in the sun because of Forrest’s fear of being discovered, what kind of life is that? You might as well be a mole. That’s not what you were made for, truly. Call your mum. If Forrest has taken your mobile – for safety, of course, that’s what he would say, isn’t it? – do something drastic. Run to the police, throw trash out the window, scream with appendicitis. Anything to get other people involved.)
The worst fear of her parents is that with a noose slowly tightening about him, Forrest will harm the 15-year-old girl. That he will try to cover his tracks by destroying the evidence. A man traveling alone has more options than a man linked with a girl half his age. The police are careful to say they just want to assure Megan’s safety and make sure she’s returned to her home – at which, the morning before she disappeared, this warm, sweet, “never brought trouble to my door” girl said to her mother, “‘Mum can you look me in the eye?’ I looked her in the eye and she said, ‘I love you’.” This is not a case of a teenager escaping abuse at home. Instead, it’s misplaced trust. Trust misplaced onto a man who does not deserve it.
(Notice to Forrest: You do not have the right to harm Megan in any way. Let her go.)
Megan’s mother had absolutely no idea that Forrest was more to her daughter than a math teacher. And the school? Is the Anglican-run Bishop Bell Church of England School similarly aghast?
Not exactly . . . unless their shock is over a conflagration their administration imagined was at slow burn. It turns out that not only did the school fire a male teacher three years ago for grooming and assaulting two female students (one would think forewarned was forearmed!), but they knew as early as this past February that Forrest had crossed a line with Megan. A fellow student confided in a teacher that she had observed Forrest and Megan holding hands on a 10-hour flight back to England from Los Angeles. Some field trip that was.
Did the school investigate and discipline Forrest? They kept him under observation. Did they forbid him to teach or tutor Megan? Not at all. Did they – or any students – even inform Megan’s mother of Forrest’s excessive interest and behavior? No.
It was a classic case of MYOB – mind your own business. Keeping well away from the fact that the business of Megan’s mother is seeing that her daughter stays safe and healthy, the absolute bog-standard minimum of parental care, and that one can only accomplish that when one has complete information. You can bet that Megan’s mum investigated the safety of the vaccine before she allowed her daughter to be inoculated against rubella. It’s too bad that Bishop Bell declined to give her even basic details of an even more frightening potential risk to Megan.
As a fellow student put it, “We are really angry the school did not do enough to protect Megan. And now no one knows where she is or if she’s coming back.”
And a child shall lead them.
Until Megan is found, police all over Europe will search for her. Meanwhile, plenty of us ought to search our consciences. Do we know something that, if told, will avert harm? Especially to a child or adolescent? Recall that a truth omitted can be as harmful as a lie. Go ahead and open up, and insist that someone pay attention. Because attention needs to be paid.
(Notice to Megan: Your mum loves you. Call her!)