Seminary student's account of sex abuse is cautionary tale

Pratt's alleged victim says she felt he was her best friend and future husband

Deseret News, Utah/July 26, 2009

OREM - It started out with talking.

She opened up about her concerns, her hopes, her fears and her dreams.

He was a good listener.

For six months their friendship grew, as they spent more and more time together in his office.

"He knew everything about me," the girl, now 17, told the Deseret News. "He knew what made me sad, mad, he knew my weaknesses, strengths. He knew me so well. And he played on that. He used that and slowly just pulled me in."

Soon, he wasn't just her LDS seminary principal. He was her best friend and, she believed, her future husband.

"I believe I did completely fall in love with him," she said. "He made it this big dream for me; our life together looked so amazing."

That dream imploded in early July, when the girl's parents said her LDS seminary principal and "perfect boyfriend," Michael Jay Pratt, was terminated from Lone Peak High School's LDS seminary program and was being investigated by the police regarding their relationship. He is married with three children, according to his comments to a judge Monday.

The girl was heartbroken.

"I feel like I've lost my best friend," she said. "I feel like he died. I miss the person I thought I knew."

That person she thought she knew was someone who was willing to listen and give her good advice. He was the reason she still came to seminary.

And he was helping her.

"We started to see positive changes in her," her dad said. "He was helping my daughter. He did help her. But all that good he did doesn't mean that he can't make a mistake and fall. And he made a huge mistake. It doesn't make him OK and my daughter a little slut because he did all those great things in the past."

The girl's name and her parents' names are not being used because she is an alleged victim of sexual abuse.

But despite the positive changes, the girl's parents began to worry about their then-16-year-old daughter.

"We suspected in April that she was becoming attached to him," her dad said. "It was Brother Pratt this, Brother Pratt that."

Their daughter quickly brushed off suggestions that she might have a crush on her leader, but her parents still wondered.

It was only a few days later, that the girl said Pratt confessed his love to her.

She was confused and worried, but he was persistent. And he was already her best friend.

"He always flattered me," she said. "He told me, 'You are amazing, you are meant to change the world.' He was like the ideal, perfect boyfriend. I believed him. I already had such a trust for him."

By May, the two started leaving school together.

Police say Pratt checked the girl out of school at least three times without her parents' knowledge or permission, according to a police affidavit filed in 4th District Court.

The first time they went to Bridal Veil Falls, where Pratt told her about his fantasies involving the two of them, she said. The two ended up in the boxcar near Vivian Park where kissing turned into a sexual encounter, according to the affidavit.

The whole time her parents thought she was at a friend's house.

Even after school was out, police say Pratt would pick up the girl and take her to various places in Utah County for more sexual activity, including Pleasant Grove, American Fork, the warm springs in Goshen and a mine in Eureka.

"I didn't believe that any of the things were OK," the girl said of the alleged sexual encounters. "I knew they were wrong. But he made me believe I would be OK. That we would be OK. That it would all work out."

Those assurances, combined with promises about the future and sentimental gifts were all part of the manipulation process, her dad says.

"They groom them and bring them to this point that they will do things they wouldn't (normally) do," he said. "It wasn't consensual based on where he had brought her."

Since receiving counseling, the daughter says she nowrecognizes the grooming techniques that should have raised red flags.

"He brainwashed me," she said of Pratt. "He didn't force me, he manipulated me so he didn't have to force me. It hurts me to believe that, to see this guy I loved and cared about ... (as) a manipulator."

"He played on my dreams," she continued. "He said a lot of things that made it appealing."

They planned to run off to Las Vegas together when she was 18 and get married, she said.

She never wore a ring, but she knew she was engaged.

"He always said, 'If I lost you for any reason, I'd be walking around for the rest of my life with half a soul,'?" the girl recounted.

It was tender and romantic then to a love-struck 16-year-old. But now?

"If he ever sees the damage he caused me and his family and his students, he won't have a soul at all," the girl says matter-of-factly. "He hurt a lot of people."

She told Pratt she didn't want to be a person who destroyed lives and families, but she said Pratt assured her this was his decision and he was choosing her over his other life.

The girl's parents' suspicions became stronger in late May, when she went for a walk and her concerned mother followed her and found her getting into Pratt's car several blocks away, her dad said.

He said he told Pratt that his daughter is "never, ever to be in your car," and demanded that communication with his daughter cease.

Mom and dad thought that was the end of it.

But when their daughter disappeared with friends all day and didn't answer calls or text messages, they began monitoring phone records. The parents allege the records show dozens of calls each week between their daughter's cell phone and the seminary building, or from Pratt's cell phone to their daughter's phone.

The final straw for them came when the girl's dad noticed a call to his daughter from an LDS stake center in Orem, where the dad said he confirmed Pratt had been attending an evening meeting. Pratt was a counselor in a singles ward bishopric in Orem, according to ward members.

So the father said he called officials at the Church Educational System of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and voiced his concerns.

"Something doesn't add up," he said he told them. "I don't have the hard evidence, but something doesn't add up."

Several days later, the father said church officials told him they had learned enough from interviews that they terminated Pratt's employment. LDS Church spokeswoman Kim Farah confirmed that Pratt was terminated when allegations of the sexual abuse surfaced.

But those allegations never came from his daughter, the dad emphasized.

"She's not the one who broke this," he said. "It isn't someone who said, 'Oh, I'm mad at him, I didn't get a good grade,' or 'Oh, he rejected me, so I went to police and made this up.'?"

Instead, he saw his daughter rush to defend a man who he believes manipulated her for several months for his own gratification.

Pratt now faces 21 felony charges in 4th District Court stemming from the alleged sexual relationship and abuse of this 16-year-old girl. During a court appearance Monday, in which he officially received the charges, public defenders were appointed to represent him.

Pratt's three appointed attorneys will meet with him this week to go over evidence in the case. Defense attorney Dusty Kawai said he hopes people will refrain from passing judgment until all the facts have been presented.

Pratt's arrest has rocked the community, many of whom call him a dedicated, life-changing educator.

Pamela Filippelli was in Pratt's seminary class several years ago when he taught at Orem High School.

"He is seriously a great guy," she said. "At this point, I don't know what to think. Everybody messes up, so it is possible that he messed this up, but then again, he hasn't pleaded to anything. If he pleads not guilty, I definitely believe him."

Filippelli started a Facebook group, "Pray for Brother Pratt," to help him see the support from people who love him.

"We've all made mistakes in our lives, some are bigger than others," Filippelli said. "Regardless of whether he's guilty or not, I will always love Brother Pratt for the good things he's done."

"He was always there to talk to you," said recent high school graduate Blake Ellis, who often spent time visiting with Pratt in his Lone Peak office. "He was one of the friendliest guys I know. When he talks to you, you know he cares about you. There's nothing fake or false in his voice. He genuinely loves each of his students."

Ellis said he broke down when a friend texted him with the news of Pratt's arrest. "We love him, no matter what he did," he said.

And although the girl's dad is angry, he realizes many people share that love and support for Pratt.

"Based on what I've heard, he's done a lot of good for a lot of people," the dad said. "What happened here should not take away from what he has done in the past. But what he did here was very, very wrong."

Some people still refuse to believe the allegations, while others have accepted their existence, realizing there are good and bad sides to everyone.

"He is definitely a hero, but at some point in the last year, along with many other heroes, I found a way to say, 'No, this person isn't perfect and they don't need to be for me to still love them,'?" said Matthew Jonassaint, who has known Pratt for years through LDS church callings and seminary classes. Jonassaint is also a member of the singles ward in Orem where Pratt served as a counselor in the bishopric.

"Michael Pratt," Jonassaint said, "regardless of whether he does get convicted ... can be both a felon who is in prison for the rest of his life and still be a man who deeply, deeply inspired me for years."

Even the girl considers Pratt a blessing in her life. He guided her through a rocky time, and his influence actually left her with stronger faith and a better relationship with God.

But that doesn't mean she is ready to forgive him or forget what happened.

"(He knew) what I've been through and my ... trust issues," she said. "He led me to trust (him) then screwed me over in the end. I had walls around me, he took them down, then put them back up 10 times thicker."

Someday, she said she'd like to talk with him face to face, even if there are guards all around. She wants to know if any of it was real.

Or was it just manipulation for one of his "sick fantasies," she said.

"I don't know who he really is," she said. "I knew him so well, but did I know him so well? Was it just something he played? I never will know the truth. That's the very hardest part of this."

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