DURANGO, Colo. — Four years ago, La Plata County deemed William Vollert, a struggling 20-year-old with special needs, a sexually violent predator for sleeping with his underage girlfriend. When the Geraghty family of Durango looks at Vollert, they see a young man in need of guidance.
Many of the Geraghty’s neighbors, a group that includes an elementary school less than 1,000 feet away, are — at the very least — wary about Vollert receiving that guidance in their neck of the woods.
The Durango Herald reached out to Vollert, the Geraghty’s and a slew of grumbling neighbors in a piece published Friday. Some believe what the Geraghty’s are doing is admirable. Others are calling it irresponsible, especially considering the family has two young children of their own.
As for Vollert, who was released from prison last month, he’s just trying to fight the stigma associated with the label he’s been given.
“I don’t want society to think, ‘Oh, he’s a bad person. Keep kids away,’” Vollert told the Herald. “I’m not a bad person. I’m not a sexually violent predator. I am a sex offender. I don’t think inside I am a sex offender, but society has put that label on me.”
La Plata County gave that label to Vollert after he was convicted of having sex with his 14-year-old girlfriend when he was 20 years old. Vollert says the girl’s father approved of the sexual relationship, and that he wasn’t charged with a crime until the girl’s mother, who is divorced from the girl’s father, notified police.
Vollert, who grew up in special education, readily admitted to having sex with the girl three times. He said those occasions were the first and only times he has ever had sex with a minor.
After pleading guilty to a lesser charge of attempted sexual assault, Vollert was sentenced to 10 years of supervised probation, which required him to wear an ankle bracelet. After he cut off that bracelet and threw it in a lake, he was sentenced to two years in prison.
After receiving an early release for good behavior, Vollert was caught drinking, which violated the terms of his parole. He was therefore sent back to prison for nine months to serve the remainder of his term.
Knowing all of that, and having known Vollert before and after he was convicted of the crime, the Geraghty’s still decided to take Vollert under their wing.
Gerry Geraghty was working at Durango High School as an in-school suspension and special education teacher when he met Vollert, who was involved in both programs. When he learned Vollert had been convicted of a sex crime after graduation, Gerry reached out to his former student while he was in prison.
“I was sending him different books and kind of mentoring him through the mail with the purpose of when he got out, we would have him in our home,” Gerry told the Herald. “Because if he isn’t here … he’s not going to have a rehabilitative life situation.”
Not only did Gerry and his family allow Vollert to move into their basement in January, they helped get him a job working on a cleanup crew for bank-repossessed houses.
And that’s not all. Vollert also takes part in a Bible study hosted by the Geraghty’s each week. The family’s two boys, ages 9 and 7, along with a “boatload of kids” from the area attend the study as well, Geraghty said.
None of the families have expressed fear in having Vollert around, Geraghty told the Herald.
The same doesn’t go for all of the Geraghty’s neighbors, including two women who knocked on the family’s door last week.
“They said, ‘Wow, it’s great that you’re caring for him (Vollert), but we don’t want him in our neighborhood,’” Geraghty told the newspaper.
Angela Lokken, another resident in the Geraght’s neighborhood, also spoke to the newspaper, saying the family should have notified nearby residents that Vollert was moving in.
“You would think if you were going to be a good neighbor, you would give your neighbors a heads up,” she said. “It’s definitely the talk of the street.”
But not all of the neighbors on the Geraghty’s street are as staunchly opposed to the family’s effort to take in Vollert. Gary Somsen, whose grandchildren often play in the same neighborhood, is among them.
While saying he will “make sure we always know where our grand kids are,” Somsen supposed Vollert “has got to live somewhere.”
“I wish there was someplace else,” Somsen continued. “But you can’t bring an island out in the middle of the Pacific and put him on it.”