Friends defend Army major and wife charged with abusing children; 1 calls allegations 'a lie'
By Jason Grant
In the summer of 2009, Roy Bryhn and his family joined Army Maj. John E. Jackson’s family for a three-day camping trip in the Lake George region of upstate New York.
The 30-person outing was organized by a “Boy-Scouts-like group” for Christian families called ALERT Cadet, Bryhn said. Bryhn said he’d recently become good friends with Jackson, who along with his wife was charged on Tuesday in a 17-count federal indictment accusing them of abusing and starving their foster and adopted children in a New Jersey home described by officials as “unimaginable” in its viciousness.
During that camping trip four years ago, Bryhn said, he witnessed the same John and Carolyn Jackson he still reveres and defends today.
“They were way above average of what you’d want a family want to be,” Bryhn said yesterday, describing the Jacksons as kind-hearted, loving and involved parents.
Bryhn recalled how, near the end of the 2009 camping trip, he noticed a sticker on John Jackson’s car that read “In Loving Memory” — and it named a young boy the Jacksons had adopted, but who had died in 2008 while living with the couple at the Picatinny Arsenal in Morris County.
Bryhn said he asked Jackson about the boy and was told by the Army major “the sad story of how (the boy) died.” He said Jackson eventually told him the youngster had ongoing health problems that included a brutal “seizure disorder.”
Bryhn’s recollections were emblematic of how two friends of the Jacksons spoke about them yesterday when contacted by The Star-Ledger. Noting their common ground with the Jacksons in the Christian faith, the two friends said they are incensed at both the federal charges brought against the couple and the onslaught of media coverage.
“It is a lie … I cannot believe it. I just don’t understand what happened to this world,” said Suzanne Chan of Somerset, who said she knew Carolyn Jackson well in 2009 and 2010 when they brought their children to a homeschooling co-op in Randolph. “This doesn’t make any sense because we (saw) them (the Jackson children) every single Tuesday. If kids are frightened it will show on their face, don’t you think so? They won’t hide their feelings.”
Bryhn, 40, of Flemington, grew especially frustrated yesterday while talking of the deceased boy, because the indictment against the Jacksons makes no allegations the boy had died based on wrongful treatment or abuse.
Yet, he said, because news reports have mentioned the boy died, some people may wrongly believe his death was connected to abuse.
On Tuesday, John Jackson, 37, and Carolyn Jackson, 35, were charged in a 22-page indictment unsealed in federal court in Newark that charges them with endangering the welfare of a child, assault and conspiracy. If convicted, the Jacksons face a maximum of 10 years in prison on each of 17 counts.
An Army man since 1993 who served in Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan, John Jackson and his wife allegedly subjected their three foster children, whom they later adopted, to beatings with a “deadly weapon,” fractured bones, and the withholding of food and water. They were brought into court Tuesday and detained, pending a bail hearing scheduled for this morning.
According to reports on the conservative website “WorldNetDaily,” the Jacksons lost custody of their two adopted and three biological children in 2010, after they were taken away by the state’s Department of Children and Families.
Bryhn said yesterday the children were removed after a 2-year-old adopted daughter fell ill from dehydration and was hospitalized. He said Carolyn Jackson took the girl to the emergency room, only to be confronted by a social worker who ordered that the parents immediately be kept away from the children.
He pointed to a later court case the Jacksons filed against the state, in which they tried to win back custody of their children, and implied the judge had wrongly ruled against the couple.
Asked if he might not know exactly what happened behind closed doors in the Jacksons’ house, Bryhn said, “That’s a very fair question.”
But, he said, after he learned the Jacksons lost custody of their children in 2010, “I tried to think about all the times I’ve been to (their) house, all the days they’ve had their kids here (at my house), the conversations we had.
“And … I grilled both of them. ‘Is there something going on?’ and, believe me, they are as forthright and as honest as anybody you would ever meet.” He then said, “And, no, there is nothing” he said he could find wrong.