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Memorial service held for accused child molester


Author: MICHAEL J. PAQUETTE; Advance staff writer

Thomas Cusick committed suicide two weeks before his scheduled trial

Propped upon an easel near the church entrance, a bright collage of happy family photos and sentimental verses paid tribute yesterday to a life cut short.

The photos portrayed Thomas Cusick carving a Christmas turkey, playing the piano, and enjoying himself at family gatherings large and small. One depicted the portly, bearded man embracing three young boys, affectionately leaning on his broad chest.

"Precious are the memories, forever in our hearts," the poster read. "Some people come into our lives, make footprints on our hearts, and we are never the same."

Indeed, the Cusick family will never be the same, in part because the memories may not always be so precious.

Cusick, a Port Richmond native, killed himself in a New Jersey hotel room on Tuesday, two weeks before his scheduled trial in Bucks County, Pa., on charges he had sexually abused half of his 28 adopted sons. His suicide was just one day before he was to appear at a hearing to answer charges that he had violated the conditions of his bail by attempting to contact one of his alleged victims.

The 47-year-old was a celebrated adoptive father to boys from some of the city's roughest neighborhoods.

But his world began to unravel when, after moving his family to Langhorne, Pa., in early 1998, one of the adopted sons accused Cusick of sexually abusing him beginning at age 9. By October 1999, six other boys had come forward with the same allegations. Seven Staten Island men who were raised by Cusick also were preparing to testify against him.

Still, after Cusick's funeral mass yesterday in Our Lady of Good Counsel R.C. Church, Tompkinsville, family members and friends maintained his innocence.

"He's the best man that you'll ever know, and anybody who knows him, knows that," said Donna Robertson, Cusick's self-described "common-law wife" of 14 years. "He gave his life to take care of his children."

Ms. Robertson would not talk about her future plans and had no further comments.

"From knowing the man, I have to believe these allegations aren't true," said Ron Ferlisi, of Eltingville, noting that he has been friends with three of Cusick's sons for more than 10 years.

About 80 mourners gathered, mostly in silence, for the simple funeral mass celebrated by a priest and a single acolyte.

There was no casket. Four huge floral arrangements -- a white-carnation heart, a red-carnation heart, and a multi-colored rose heart as well as a white-carnation cross adorned with red roses -- stood before the altar. A private cremation is scheduled.

Ms. Robertson sat in a front pew, surrounded by many of Cusick's adopted sons. One young boy continually hugged and kissed her for comfort, often resting his head on her shoulder during the hour-long mass.

"We pray for Thomas in his death and we pray, certainly, for him that he be with God in eternal life," said the Rev. Joseph Girone during the homily.

Bobby Cusick, one of the elder adopted sons who said he had been bounced around to six different foster homes before settling with Cusick, delivered an emotional eulogy.

"I can recall like it just happened, the first day I went to live with my father," he said, holding back tears. "I chose the first time to call him dad because that's how he made me feel, like I was his son forever."

Bobby Cusick referred to Cusick's legal quagmire only tangentially.

"Seven months ago, this family was torn apart," he said. "I told my father I knew in my heart all the pain and hurt would be gone."

But, he admitted, he never expected Cusick to end his life.

"The saddest thing of all is that I will never be able to give my dad a hug again, never again see the smile on his face or tell him I love him," he said.

After the mass, several women who refused to identify themselves other than as Staten Islanders, criticized the news coverage of Cusick's troubles.

"It used to be a man was innocent until proven guilty," said one woman. "This is still the United States of America."

2000 Apr 16