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Margaret Ruto is pictured on the campus of Lancaster Mennonite High School, where she was a former student, on Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. Ruto helped to investigate the case of Gregory Dow, a missionary from Lancaster County who sexually abused four girls at his Kenyan orphanage and was sentenced Feb. 4, 2020, to nearly 16 years in federal prison.

THE ISSUE

“A former East Hempfield Township man who sexually abused four girls for years at his Kenyan orphanage will spend nearly 16 years in federal prison and the rest of his life on supervision,” LNP | LancasterOnline’s Dan Nephin reported last week. “U.S. District Judge Edward Smith said Gregory Hayes Dow’s crimes were ‘as evil, as depraved, as any case that’s come before me.’ ” Dow — who also was convicted in Iowa in 1996 for assault with intent to commit sexual abuse on a child — established the Dow Family Children’s Home in Boito, Kenya, in 2008 with his wife, Mary Rose Dow. She was convicted and fined in Kenya for taking girls at the children’s home to get birth control devices implanted without their consent so her husband could assault them without impregnating them. Gregory Dow fled Kenya in 2017 to avoid prosecution in that country.

What Gregory and Mary Rose Dow did to vulnerable children in their care was horrific.

We know intellectually that outwardly nice people sometimes commit terrible crimes against children, but it’s still difficult to grasp the depravity of traveling to a foreign country as missionaries and then using religious faith as a cover for sexually assaulting children who’d already experienced pain and loss. It’s also hard to understand how a man previously convicted of a sexual crime against a child was permitted to operate a children’s home.

There is no silver lining in a story of such darkness and evil, but there is a hero in the story, and her name is Margaret Ruto.

As former LNP | LancasterOnline reporter Lindsey Blest Van Ness wrote last week for this newspaper, Ruto is a Lancaster County nursing student who was raised not far from Boito, Kenya, where the Dow Family Children’s Home was located.

“On a fall day in 2017,” Van Ness recounted, “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.”

An internet search showed a man with the same name was a missionary from Lancaster County — just miles away from where she lived.

Reaching out to friends and strangers alike, scouring social media, Ruto learned that Dow supposedly fled the children’s home after police began investigating allegations that he sexually assaulted children.

Many of us would have stopped there, satisfied by a few internet searches. But not Ruto.

“How coincidental can it be? To me it was a sign,” Ruto told Van Ness. “It was a divine sign that I had to do something about it.”

And so she did.

Pursuing the case

Frustrated with the lack of action by Kenyan authorities, Ruto happened on an article about a U.S. citizen who had been 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,” Van Ness explained.

Ruto realized she could report Dow to U.S. authorities. But she said she decided she needed to “get enough information that is truly pointing that he is guilty.”

As Van Ness reported, “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 told the story to a Lancaster County detective.

“I was getting ready to drop out of the (HACC) nursing program to pursue this case,” she told Van Ness. “That’s how passionate I was.”

She heeded her family’s pleas to remain in school. But that June, she took a medical leave from her nursing program to travel to Kenya to care for her ailing 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,” Van Ness wrote. “That’s when she heard the girls’ accounts.”

“I spoke to these girls. I saw their eyes bubble up,” Ruto recalled to Van Ness, “and I believed everything they told me.”

‘The engine’

There was little in those girls’ lives that could be described as fortunate but Ruto’s involvement in their case — her tenacity, her compassion, her insistence on seeking justice — would prove to be a gift to them. And to the U.S. authorities who eventually convicted Dow.

Ruto was cited by name in a statement issued by acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer Arbittier Williams after Dow’s sentencing.

“Ms. Ruto was invaluable at the outset of the investigation into Dow’s horrific crimes,” Williams said. “She and another Kenyan woman contacted both local law enforcement in Lancaster, as well as LNP | LancasterOnline, 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 called the case 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.”

Sensibly, impressively, Ruto didn’t want to share her story until after Dow was sentenced. She told Van Ness she now 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.”

There is so much that’s terrible and incomprehensible about the Gregory Dow case — including the fact that he and his wife received financial support from a church in Elizabethtown, LifeGate, even though a pastor there was aware of Gregory Dow’s prior sexual assault conviction. Their home in Kenya was allowed to grow to the point where it took in more than 80 children, from newborns to teens. The trauma that some of those children experienced at Dow’s hands makes us furious.

But Margaret Ruto — we are awed by her.

“Margaret is the engine that has propelled this fight,” said Edmond Nyabola, an investigative journalist in 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.”

Ruto told Van Ness that she is working to start a nonprofit to help the children of Boito. With her nursing program on pause because of COVID-19-related course limitations, she began taking classes toward a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice to add to an associate degree she previously earned on the subject.

“No jail time can heal the scars Gregory Dow inflicted on his known and unknown victims,” Ruto said in a text after attending Dow’s sentencing.

This is sadly true. But trauma can be compounded by a lack of justice, and Ruto helped to spare Dow’s victims — who already had suffered too much — the anguish of going unheard. What an incredible thing she has done.

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