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Residents express ire at sex offender meeting

North Whidbey residents aren’t just concerned about their safety and the safety of their children, they want to make sure a 13-year-old sex offender gets the help he needs.

About 60 people showed up for the Island County Sheriff’s Office community meeting at the Oak Harbor city shop Monday night, though nearly half of them were from the media, law enforcement and the Department of Social and Health Services.

Sheriff Mike Hawley called the meeting to discuss Nicholas Stroeder, who has been living at the Department of Social and Health Service Division of Child and Family Services building on Goldie Road over the last week.

The DSHS has come under fire from Hawley and community members for not finding a permanent home or facility for the Level 3 sex offender, who was released from a 36-week incarceration Dec. 31. Level 3 sex offenders are considered the highest risk to the community.

A total of 48 employees at Technical Services, Inc., which is located across the street from the state building, signed a petition asking DSHS to remove Stroeder to “a secure, cost effective location and provide remedial treatment for him.”

“We protest the presence of the Level 3 sex offender, Nicholas Stroeder, in our community,” the petition states, “and the unreasonable expenditure of our taxes in the wasteful management of the case.”

Stroeder will be staying at a licensed foster home in Island County for two days this week, a DSHS official said, but he’ll likely be back at the Oak Harbor facility Thursday.

Audience members questioned why an appropriate facility wasn’t found earlier, if Stroeder will be going to public schools, and how he’s being supervised. Some expressed outrage at the amount of money the state is spending on housing him. Many also wanted to know if anything is being done to help the troubled, developmentally-delayed boy.

“He’s got his whole life ahead of him,” Oak Harbor resident Jill Hagar said. “If he doesn’t get any help, he’s either going to end up killing someone or getting himself killed.”

“I’m worried about this particular individual being in a public school setting,” North Whidbey resident Kari Negle said. “It’s not over, wherever he goes. It’s a shame, but he needs to get help.”

Stroeder was just 9 years old when he burned his grandmother’s North Whidbey house. He was later accused of attempting to rape a foster sister and acting out sexually while in state custody.

Last summer Stroeder molested and apparently tried to rape a pregnant woman at the women’s bathroom of the Alderwood Mall in Lynnwood. He pleaded guilty in Snohomish County to indecent liberties with forcible compulsion July 11, 2001.

Since last Monday, Stroeder has been officially living at the North Whidbey Child Protective Services building. A male social worker supervises him all day long. After hours, a deputy drives him to a crisis care center at night and babysits him until morning. The care has been costing about $1,000 a day.

At the meeting, Todd Henry, the regional manager of the Division of Children and Family Services, said the department has been working to find a placement for Stroeder since last fall, but neither a willing foster home or an appropriate facility could be found in the state.

“There is no treatment program for Nicholas. Period,” he said.

Henry said that the department tries to place children near their community and family members. In Stroeder‘s case that would mean being near Oak Harbor. Having found nothing, Henry said the department has “recently extended the search to contiguous states like Oregon, Idaho and beyond.”

“A few providers have come to the table,” Henry said, “and expressed interest over the last few days and we’re grateful.”

Henry said Stroeder will need to go to a facility with people who are trained to deal with children like him. He is also court-ordered to receive sex offender therapy. In addition, Henry explained that Stroeder isn’t currently getting any schooling, but that will be figured out once a permanent place is found.

Hawley told the crowd that he met Stroeder last week and was surprised by how small and quiet he is.

“He’s a little guy,” Hawley said. “You read this history and you think he’s a monster. ... If he’s in the company of men, he’s docile and well-behaved. But in the company of women, all the red flags go up.”

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