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'Like my god-uncle'
For most of her life, before her parents' reconciliation, "I just felt terrible," Alle says. "I would cry myself to sleep and not know if I was going to wake up to a dead dad or my mother moving out of the country or my brother dying from an overdose."
By this time last year, she says, she was also carrying a terrible secret. "I felt isolated from the whole world. Hopeless. My self-confidence was low. I wanted to be alone all the time."
The secret, she says, concerned her father's best friend, Zay Whitaker. According to Alle, Whitaker began sexually abusing her when she was five years old, even before her parents' divorce; the abuse, which she says included rape, continued throughout the chaotic years of alcohol, moves, and mental hospitals; and was maintained, even as she grew older, through a combination of trust on her part, threats on his and confusion about where to turn.
Powell had met Whitaker when he owned the family business and Whitaker managed Hillcrest Liquor. Powell acknowledges, "We became friends, partly because I was over there every day."
Annette recalls, "He was not somebody I liked. I wasn't a drinker, so I didn't fit in with them and their drinking. I didn't dislike him. I accepted him because he was Powell's best friend.
"And he's funny," she adds. "We kind of felt we were sharing a family with him, because he didn't have a good family life growing up."
Powell agrees. "For the last three years, Zay has been part of this family. He would play cards with Alle. I didn't have the patience to do that. He was like a grandfather to her, or an uncle. He liked to spoil her, so it felt good to me that there was somebody who would try to indulge her."
To Alle, "He was more like my god-uncle. I called him that. He would buy me presents for no reason. Lots of stuff. For my birthday. For Christmas. I liked it. I liked the stuff and the attention. But at the same time I felt violated, like, 'You've got no right to touch me.' "
Though she says she tried to hide it, she describes an insecure childhood that, with Whitaker, became bounded by attention and abuse, confidence and threats.
Throughout her parents' and Whitaker's various moves, Whitaker was often at the house, and she was often at his. Alle says this was because he would demand that she tell her parents she wanted to go see him and back up those demands with threats.
"When I was seven, or maybe six," Alle says, "he started telling me he loved me. That would have been two years into our unhealthy relationship. Even so, sometimes he would throw me up against walls and yell at me and throw me around like I was a rag doll. He was very abusive, but at the time, I thought he actually did love me."
Picking up a framed photograph of herself from a table beside the couch, she says, "This is my third-grade picture. Zay got someone to do my hair so I would look good in this picture. And I do look good, don't you think? I was glad he did that. It was just very confusing."
She adds: "In some part of my mind, I didn't want it to stop. But I did. I was sort of half-and-half. I wasn't getting attention from anybody but him. My parents were in their own worlds for a really, really long time.
"I felt completely, utterly alone, and I wanted every bit of attention I could get. So I'd say it was 50 percent due to Zay. The other 50 percent was me, me and my life. My life was just terrible."
Yet, in fifth grade, Alle wrote an essay titled "All about Me." It began: "People may be the same on the outside, but on the inside we are all totally different." When she considers how she's lived most of her life in one neighborhood, close to a grandfather she loves and attends school like other kids, she says, "I lived a very normal life, beside the rape. That's the only thing that wasn't normal, but yet it was normal, for me."
By September 2009, Powell and Annette could see that "Alle's moods were swinging," as Powell put it. They attributed part of that to the fact that she had just changed schools, and part to her medications, many of which were steroidal. They never suspected Whitaker.
'I was just done'
January 4 of this year fell on a Monday. It was the day that classes resumed after the holiday break. Alle stayed home from school with a sinus infection. Her parents were at work. Whitaker, who was then unemployed, came to the house.
That day everything changed. While Whitaker was taking a shower, Alle picked up the phone her father had given her for Christmas and dialed 800-448-3000, The Boys Town National Hotline. She says she had no intention of revealing her true identity or of getting police involved, though she believes she'd been moving toward that moment for some time.
"I was just done," she says. "My dad had been sober for a year. I don't know what shifted, but I was done taking orders from somebody who didn't scare me anymore. I knew that I'm my own person and no one but my parents could tell me what to do."
The woman who answered identified herself as Betty and asked how she could help. At first, Alle did not speak. Then, sounding like she had a cold and/or had been crying, she answered: "Umm. Well, there's this person that won't stop touching me and I don't know how to deal with it."
"Well, I'm glad you called, Honey," the woman replied. "When did all this happen?"
The phone call lasted half an hour, during which Betty alternately soothed Alle, told her she'd been brave to call, and tried to elicit precise information about Alle, the "person" and her family. Much of what Alle reported matched the facts of her life and what she later told police.
She said she lived with her mom and dad, that the man had threatened to beat her or kill her, that she lived in Little Rock, the companies where her parents worked, and that she didn't tell them about the abuse because, "my dad trusts him."
She also said things that were not true and that didn't conform to later accounts. She said that she was home alone at the time; that she'd gotten the Boys Town number, first, by "looking in the phone book" and then from a friend who "was having a little trouble with sort of the same thing"; that she had two brothers and two sisters; that she went to Forest Park school; that she didn't know where her attacker lived, and that she had visible bruises at the time of the call.
When "Betty" asked for the name of the person who'd hurt her, she gave a false name. When asked for her own last name, she said it was, "Whitaker."
The woman on the hotline tried, with little success, to get Alle to identify some adult in whom she would confide. When the woman gently asked Alle how she would feel about her notifying the police, a note of alarm came into the girl's voice.
"I thought you were a place where you wouldn't tell anybody," she said. "I just need somebody to talk to." A bit later, she told the woman, that if she reported the call, "I'll get really, really hurt."
"I told them I was going to call them back, but I didn't," Alle says. "I was scared. I don't really know what I was scared of. I was making things up because I didn't want them to call the police. I just was not ready to go through that."
Alle hung up. Unbeknownst to her, the staff at Boys Town notified the Little Rock police.