In Boito, Kenya, the girl sitting next to Margaret Ruto tilts her head toward the ground of her mud house.
The girl, around age 12, tells her story slowly: how an American man came to her village, started a children’s home under the premise of food, housing and education. How he sexually assaulted her, and how he fled. The account was the first of several Ruto would hear.
“I spoke to these girls. I saw their eyes bubble up,” Ruto recalls, “and I believed everything they told me.”
Ruto, 36, was raised a 10-minute drive from the remote village. She came to America in high school and later moved to Lancaster County.
On this summer day in 2018, she had returned to Boito with a purpose linked to her American home: She was pursuing information about a Lancaster County missionary, Gregory Dow. She had learned he was wanted by Kenyan police on charges of assaulting young girls at his home for children.
On Thursday, the more than two-year pursuit concluded. Dow, 61, was sentenced to nearly 16 years in federal prison for four counts of engaging in illicit sexual conduct with young girls in his care. He pleaded guilty to the charges in June 2020.
“No jail time can heal the scars Gregory Dow inflicted on his known and unknown victims,” Ruto said in a text after attending the sentencing.
“I am satisfied with the outcome given the nature of the case,” she said.
A federal official called Ruto’s help in the Dow case “invaluable.”
“Every successful prosecution requires a team of dedicated investigators and prosecutors working to bring justice to the victims. And this case certainly had that, but it also had something else just as valuable: concerned citizens such as Margaret Ruto,” Jennifer Arbittier Williams, acting U.S. attorney, said in a statement after the sentencing. “Ms. Ruto was invaluable at the outset of the investigation into Dow’s horrific crimes. She and another Kenyan woman contacted both local law enforcement in Lancaster, as well as LNP, to share the fruits of their own investigation into Dow’s crimes.
“Ultimately, Ms. Ruto’s information found its way to a team of dedicated FBI agents, who traveled to Kenya to further investigate the allegations,” she said. “In doing so, the agents relied on leads provided by Ms. Ruto and gathered the evidence required to charge Dow and hold him accountable for the monstrous abuse he perpetrated on his victims.”
Williams said the case was a “textbook example of the ways in which the public can assist law enforcement in bringing sexual predators like Dow, and other criminals, to justice.”
“If you see something, say something. We’re listening,” she said.
Welcome to the U.S.
Ruto’s father traveled from Kenya to attend Lancaster Bible College in the late 1980s. After graduating in 1989, he returned home, raised his children and helped send Ruto to the U.S. to attend high school.
In 2003, Ruto entered the 11th grade at Lancaster Mennonite School. Her first impression of Lancaster County? “The people were really, really nice,” she said.
Ruto lived in other parts of the U.S. — she attended college in Virginia and New York — but came back to Lancaster County in 2012. She worked at nursing homes and was accepted into the nursing program at HACC.
Unbeknownst to Ruto, in 2008 Dow and his wife and six children moved to Boito from East Hempfield Township to open a home for needy and orphaned children. Dow had the support of an Elizabethtown church even though the church was aware he pleaded guilty in 1996 to sexually assaulting a young girl in Iowa. While operating the home, the Dows received funding from churches and nonprofits in Lancaster County.
The home grew to more than 80 children, from newborns to teens. But in September 2017, Dow left after police began investigating reports of illicit behavior. With a Kenyan warrant out for his arrest, Dow returned to Lancaster County.
On a fall day in 2017, Ruto stumbled upon a Facebook post about a children’s home operated by a white man in Boito that had closed. Curious, Ruto texted friends and family members in Kenya, and eventually she got a name: Gregory Dow.
A Google search showed a man with the same name was a missionary from Lancaster County, mere miles away from where she lived.
She reached out to old friends and strangers, scouring social media for clues. Gradually, she learned Dow supposedly fled the children’s home after police began investigating allegations that he sexually assaulted children.
Retelling her story, Ruto said she still gets chills.
“How coincidental can it be? To me it was a sign,” she said of the Facebook post. “It was a divine sign that I had to do something about it.”
Making the case
At first Ruto focused on Kenyan criminal agencies as the ones who had to investigate Dow. However, the lack of action frustrated her, she said.
One day she read an article about an Oklahoma man charged in 2014 by U.S. federal authorities with sexually assaulting children while volunteering at a home for neglected children in Kenya. The offenses fell under a portion of U.S. crime code that allows charges against Americans for alleged international crimes.
Ruto realized she could report Dow to American authorities. But to do so, she wanted her case to be airtight.
“I didn’t want to get myself in something that I wasn’t sure about,” she said. “I wanted to make sure that, before I go there, I need to get enough information that is truly pointing that he is guilty.”
Ruto slept little as she worked, took classes at HACC, cared for her young daughter and stayed up late to talk with people eight hours ahead in Kenya.
Around May 2018, she visited the Lancaster County district attorney’s office, where a detective listened to her story and got her contact information. Ruto respected the need for a careful investigation, she said, but was anxious to do more.
“I was getting ready to drop out of the (HACC) nursing program to pursue this case,” she said. “That’s how passionate I was.”
Her family pressed her to continue her studies and she obliged. In June, Ruto took a medical leave from her nursing program to travel to Kenya to care for her sick mother-in-law.
While there, Ruto repeatedly made the hourlong trip by public transportation — a van and a motorcycle — to Boito in search of former workers and children of Dow’s home. That’s when she heard the girls’ accounts.
Ruto learned that Dow’s wife, Mary Rose Dow, had been charged with having girls implanted with birth-control devices. Ruto hired a Kenyan lawyer to get copies of Mary Rose Dow’s court documents. The documents showed a judge convicted her on two counts of cruelty to a child and sentenced her to a year in prison or a fine of about $500. Later, Ruto learned she paid the fine and returned to the U.S.
Armed with more evidence, Ruto returned to the U.S. in September determined to see Gregory Dow brought to justice.
‘Believing the victims’
It wasn’t until fall 2018, after Ruto reached out to LNP | LancasterOnline and after a reporter began asking federal agencies questions about the Dows, that she heard from federal investigators. Aside from listening to her story, she said, they didn’t make any promises about an investigation.
“I had a few moments where I was upset,” Ruto recalled. “I felt that the process was slow, and I wished that they could move faster. I was becoming impatient.”
Finally, she said, everything changed July 12, 2019, the day police arrested Dow at his East Hempfield Township home. Ruto saw many of the pieces of evidence she gathered verified in the indictment from the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
“The federal government was not making anything up,” she said. “They had concrete evidence, and that’s why he was brought to justice.”
Ruto said she felt a weight taken off her shoulders.
“It wasn’t about me,” she said. “Believing what I was saying was believing the victims.”
“Margaret is the engine that has propelled this fight,” said Edmond Nyabola, an investigative journalist for NTV Kenya, who produced a documentary on the case in March 2019.
“Those kids can finally find justice because of the good noise she made, the evidence she put together, the doors she knocked, and not to mention, the bravery to even think of taking this on,” he said.
Nyabola added that the Kenyan response has been overwhelming.
“The people of Boito feel a sense of relief, years later,” he said. “Relief, not because it is enough or even timely, but because what was often discussed in hushed tones of anger at both the Dows and Kenyan authorities, is finally getting the attention it deserves and the wheels of justice are rolling.”
One of the organizations that previously gave grant money to the home, Elizabethtown-based Brittany’s Hope, has continued to care for the children.
Of the 85 children at the home, the Kenyan government resettled 23 at orphanages and homes and reunited 62 with guardians, according to Mai-Lynn Sahd, executive director of Brittany's Hope. Her organization began working with a Kenyan organization, Little Sisters of St. Francis, to rebuild trust in the community. Some have not wanted to be in the program, Sahd said, but 38 children have been supported through food, education and health care.
The coronavirus pandemic has complicated their efforts, she said. Most of the children attended boarding schools, which have been closed since March. Brittany’s Hope began providing food, health care and supplies for the children and their families.
“These children have come from very difficult situations. They themselves thought they found hope, but instead they experienced tremendous trauma as a result of it,” Sahd said. “So many wrongs have been done to these children. It was our responsibility to make sure we go above and beyond and set things right.”
Ruto said she isn’t done helping the Boito children, either. She is working to start a nonprofit. Because of COVID-19-related course limitations, she paused her nursing program. She began taking classes toward a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice to add to an associate degree she earned on the subject after high school.
Ruto didn’t want to share her story until after Dow was sentenced. Now she wants others to know the importance of speaking up about suspicions of wrongdoing.
“Just think about it,” Ruto said. “If I didn’t see that post on Facebook, (Dow) could be free right now.”
— Lindsey Blest Van Ness is a former LNP | LancasterOnline reporter.