A MOTHER’S MISSION

Written By: Robert Cocuzzo | Photography By: Brian Sager

Heather Unruh fights to bring actor Kevin Spacey to justice.

Heather Unruh’s tweet did not go unnoticed. “The #weinsteinscandal has emboldened me– #truth time,” she wrote on October 13, 2017. “I was a Kevin Spacey fan until he assaulted a loved one. Time the dominoes fall.” Almost immediately after sending that tweet, Unruh, a former Boston news anchor and lifelong Nantucket summer resident, started getting calls from around the world. “People were calling from every major television network, every tabloid newspaper and magazine,” she says. “Even as a former journalist, I was terrified. I barricaded myself into the house and thought, ‘What the hell have I done?’”

Soon reporters came knocking at her door in Dover, Massachusetts wanting to know the story behind the tweet. Who had Kevin Spacey assaulted? Who was the “loved one” she was referring to in the tweet? “I was bombarded,” she says. “I had to put signs in my window: Beware of Dog. Private Property. Keep off.”

Two weeks later, Hollywood actor Anthony Rapp came forward in a story published by BuzzFeed, alleging that Spacey had sexually assaulted him thirty-one years ago when he was only fourteen. The shocking story prompted a flimsy apology from Spacey, who claimed to not remember the encounter and diminished the alleged incident as “drunken behavior.” But Unruh knew that Anthony Rapp wasn’t Spacey’s only victim. There were others out there—including her own son.

In November, Unruh appeared in a conference room in Boston, dressed in black and flanked by her daughter Kylie and lawyer Mitch Garabedian, the attorney who represented victims in the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal. “In July 2016, actor Kevin Spacey sexually assaulted my son,” Unruh began tearfully, amidst the chatter of cameras. “It happened late night inside the Club Car Restaurant and Bar on Nantucket Island. The victim, my son, was a star-struck, straight, eighteen-year-old young man who had no idea that the famous actor was an alleged sexual predator or that he was about to become his next victim.”

Unruh went on to describe how Spacey bought her son—who had lied to the actor about his age— “drink after drink after drink” before forcibly groping him repeatedly in the dark and crowded piano bar. When Spacey went to use the restroom, a witness nearby approached the shaken young man and told him to run. He ran to Unruh’s mother’s home, woke up his sister, and then called his mother to tell her what happened. For the rest of the night, Unruh’s son paced the room restlessly, trying to unravel the night’s events and decide what to do next.

“He always wanted to speak out,” Unruh said, three months after the press conference. “From the very next day, he wanted to stop him. But he was really afraid and really embarrassed. He was afraid of taking on such a big prominent celebrity. He was also really worried about what would happen to The Club Car and the bartenders.”

At the time, Unruh’s son was working as a busboy at The Club Car, which was then under the ownership of Joe Pantorno. The restaurant had been a family favorite for years. “It’s a place where we celebrated life’s moments,” Unruh says. “Even back when I was working in restaurants, that’s the place we went for last call.” Unruh’s son continued to work at The Club Car, and the family only told a handful of friends on the island about the incident. It wasn’t until more than a year later, emboldened by the rise of the #MeToo movement, that Unruh’s son filed a police report on Nantucket.

“It still feels very much like an open wound,” Unruh says. “I don’t even know where Kevin Spacey is. Nobody seems to know. He could be in another country and never coming back.” As long as Spacey is still out there, Unruh and her family can’t really begin to heal. As with other celebrity sexual assault cases such as those involving Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey hasn’t been brought before a court or had any formal charges filed against him. This despite the fact that fifteen other men have since come out alleging that he assaulted them, including at least five who were in their teens at the time of the alleged incidents.

According to Nantucket Police Chief Bill Pittman, the investigation into the alleged incident on Nantucket was swiftly taken over by the Cape and the Islands district attorney. “The DA arranged to do the interviews over on the Cape with their investigators,” Chief Pittman indicated by email. “We sent a detective over to sit in, but to my knowledge we have had no involvement since.” The Cape and the Island District Attorney’s office declined to answer questions regarding the case, only commenting that it was still an open investigation.

One person who could break this case wide open is the unknown woman who witnessed Spacey assaulting Unruh’s son before telling him to run. Despite publically thanking the woman and beseeching her to come forward, Unruh says she hasn’t heard from the unknown hero. “I’m so grateful that she stopped it from becoming something much worse,” she says. “I will always be grateful. But I will be very disappointed if she doesn’t come forward and make a statement to investigators. She was a witness to a crime. Plain and simple.” At the end of February, Unruh tweeted out another plea for the woman to come forward, but there’s been no word from her as of yet. “I understand that she may not want to get involved. I understand it’s frightening and it’s a distraction from her life,” she says. “But here’s a young man who has showed so much courage to come forward and take on this person. Surely, she can show a little of that courage too and stand up and support him.”

As for her son, Unruh says he checks in with her a couple times a week for updates on the case. Now a sophomore in college, he cannot speak publically while the investigation is underway. “Most men who come forward aren’t nineteen years old; my son is an exception,” Unruh says. “Most men live with a dark secret for a long time. One in six men are sexually assaulted by the time they’re eighteen. Why isn’t anyone talking about that?”

Unruh points to an organization her son founded as a junior at Dover Sherburn High School as a source of his courage. SWEAR—Stand With Everyone Against Rape—is dedicated to raising awareness about sexual violence through peer-to-peer programs. Unruh’s daughter now runs the organization, which has since launched a chapter on Martha’s Vineyard. Unruh hopes organizations like SWEAR and examples of courage like her son will help empower other male victims to come out of the shadows.

Waiting for the slow wheels of justice has taken a toll on the family. Unruh has endured vulgar trolling online by “keyword cowards,” as she calls them. “I was accused of going for an attention grab or that we must be moneygrubbers,” she says. “When they started coming out, they were incredibly hurtful. There were some that said, ‘Your son is gay and he loved every minute of it.’ One of them actually found a picture of my son and put a caption…” Unruh pauses, tears pooling in her eyes. “Anyone who thinks that because he wasn’t raped, he wasn’t hurt—is mistaken.”

As for her family’s feelings about Nantucket, Heather Unruh says nothing has changed. “Nantucket is my home. It will always be my happy place,” she says. “I don’t feel any differently about the island.” In fact, with her daughter graduating from high school and her son already away at college, Unruh and her husband are considering moving to Nantucket year-round. In the meantime, they remain fully committed to fighting for their son’s justice and seeing to it that Kevin Spacey feels the cold, hard hand of the law.

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