Man Kills Alleged Long-Time Abuser

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Feb 23, 2010

A 32-year-old man shot a former neighbor, 63, in the California town of Fort Bragg, then lingered as the older man died. The killing, which took place a year ago, has resulted in local support--for the shooter, that is, who claims that for years he was subjected to sexual assault at the older man's hands.

According to Aaron Vargas, the man he shot--Darrell McNeill--molested him for years, starting when he was 11 and continuing into Vargas' 20s, a Feb. 21 article in the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Though the assaults stopped, the article says, McNeill allegedly continued to hound Vargas. Finally, Vargas stood up to him, but the confrontation ended with Vargas shooting McNeill with a hair-trigger revolver, even as the older man's wife looked on. The article says that Vargas' March 22 trial will hinge on whether the gun was fired accidentally or deliberately, but aside from the DA and police, few are calling for hard time for Vargas. To the contrary: many among Fort Bragg's 7,000 residents, including McNeill's wife, say that the law should take Vargas' history with McNeill into account and deliver a light sentence. Many in the logging town, located not far from Mendocino, believe Vargas' claims about sexual abuse--in large part because about a dozen others have also come forward to say that they, too, were assaulted by McNeill, who was once a Scout leader as well as a Big Brother.

For the police, however, the first responsibility is to their duty as investigators. The Mendocino County DA, meanwhile, is looking to charge Vargas with fist degree murder: if convicted, Vargas could get life.

"Should that guy go to prison for standing up for himself? No way," resident Katie Taylor, 18, told the Chronicle. "The old guy was a creep and deserved what he got."

"They shouldn't even take Aaron to trial," opined Deb Evans, 50, adding, "We don't like pedophiles in this town."

"I thought we lived in a safe community, and my children never went more than a block away from home by themselves before they were 12," Vargas' mother, Robin, told the Chronicle. "I didn't know the real danger was really just 25 feet away."

Though parents may teach their children not to take candy from strangers, it is thought that relatives or family friends are responsible for most cases of child sexual abuse. The article placed the number of children assaulted annually at 20,000; half of those are the victims of acquaintances. Though more cases come to light than used to, sexual abuse against children may still be an underreported crime; as for incidents in which a victim kills his or her abuser, "My guess is it's pretty rare, at the very least," Lisa Jones, a researcher, told the Chronicle.

Even to their closest friends and family, child molesters can be virtual Jekyll-and-Hydes, with the darker side going unnoticed, and unsuspected, for years. "I know the man I was married to, but this other man who abused kids, I didn't know," Liz McNeill, the shooting victim's widow, told the press. "I call them Darrell One and Darrell Two--but I have no reason not to believe Aaron."

Mrs. McNeill said that Vargas should be punished--but not with life in prison. "I do think Aaron needs to spend some time in jail, but not a lot," she said. "I can understand being driven to the edge, but I do not condone what he did. He just needs help." Added Mrs. McNeill, "I've known him most of his life, and I still love the kid."

The issue of whether Vargas was looking for revenge or just seeking to impress McNeill with the gun and get him to leave him be will play a crucial role in the trial. Vargas told McNeill that "he was lucky" to have his wife is here," which may indicate that what Vargas had in mind was a stern warning; the revolver Vargas brandished a cap--and-ball style pistol like those used in the Civil War--may easily have gone off without Vargas intending for it to discharge, because such guns have hair triggers. On the other hand, such guns are not easily loaded, and it took some preparation for Vargas to have the gun ready to fire when he confronted McNeill--which might argue that he was planning on firing the .44 caliber slug that killed the older man.

The shooting followed what has been described as "a few quiet words" between Vargas and McNeill as the men stood in the door to McNeill's trailer on the evening of Feb. 28 last year. "After he shot Darrell, he told him something to the effect of, 'You're not going to hurt anyone again,' and then he told me all about how Darrell abused him as a child," McNeill related. "I was shocked at all of this. He told me he wasn't going to hurt me, but I was never scared. I knew he wouldn't."

Police placed Vargas under arrest later that same evening. Vargas was at his parents' house, having gone there after the shooting. "He came over and told me he'd shot Darrell, and I knew something traumatic had happened," said Robin Vargas. "And he told me Darrell had molested him and was still on the prowl to molest others. My world went upside down in a few seconds," Vargas' mother added. "I sat down and held him in my arms, and my heart has ached ever since."

Vargas claims that McNeill first assaulted him during the course of a fishing trip when Vargas was 11. Vargas' life exhibited a pattern that is not unusual in such cases: family members look back to note that Vargas was a happy youth before that trip, but that he was subsequently very different: less outgoing, and struggling in school. As a young adult, problems continued to plague him--Vargas ended up with a record for drunk driving and a work life consisting mostly of odd jobs. "We knew something wasn't right all those years, but we never put things together," Mindy Galliani, Vargas' older sister, said. "Now it all makes sense."

McNeill, a local businessman, was regarded as a fixture of the community; City Councilman Jere Melo described him to the Chronicle by saying that McNeill "seemed like a good citizen."

Vargas was in his twenties when he finally put a stop to the abuse, according to Galliani. But McNeill continued to pursue him--even after Vargas got engaged. Then Vargas and his fiancée had a baby daughter, and McNeill began to ask if he might visit--and if he might be allowed to baby-sit. "It was like a sick obsession. He knew his control over Aaron was slipping away, and he just didn't want to let go," Galliani said, adding, "I don't think Aaron went over to Darrell's that night to actually kill him, but I'm sure he wanted to scare him. He wanted to be left alone, and for him not to hurt other kids."

That McNeill might harm others--perhaps Vargas' own daughter--was evidently brought home to Vargas when he and two others--McNeill's stepson, now 46, and his son, 34--compared notes, with the stepson alleging that McNeill had also assaulted him. Three days later, Vargas confronted McNeill, with fatal consequences.

Local police may not have acted on prior reports that O'Neill had molested children. "Darrell was very smart about what he did, very persuasive, real friendly," 46-year-old Todd Rowan told the Chronicle. Rowan says that O'Neill assaulted him over a four-year period, between the ages of 15 and 19. "He'd pick out guys like me who were loners or vulnerable, and have us over to drink beer and smoke pot. Then when you were stoned, he'd go at you." Rowan, too, finally put a stop to the abuse, but his life bore the traces of the abuse: Rowan had substance abuse issues and attempted suicide. He finally took his story to local police, but they did nothing, he says.

"I went through hell because of that man," Rowan told the Chronicle. "I'm now with a great woman and I'm clean and sober, but it's still hard to talk about this." Added Rowan, "Look, up here this is a redneck town. Nobody would believe you about this stuff. But enough is enough after what happened with Aaron, so I'm talking now. Maybe if we'd all talked more back then, it would have never to come to all this."

Nothing happened either, says McNeill's former wife, Jenny Cotilla, when she went to authorities to report that McNeill had abused his stepson. Authorities must follow a gag order imposed by a judge last summer. But Vargas' lawyers have a copy of the report Rowan filed with local police.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


  • , 2010-02-23 20:57:10

    Why did he say something about it to his mother was she not close to her son. And the naberhood colud have try to fine out why the childing that was abuserd did not tell. we as adult should have took the time to head the signs that was in plane site.I know that they heard or saw it all on the news and in the paper. if a man or woman kill a nother they should thae responabilty and face it. It was help out there. But did the audlt look for it after all this man was a adlut and know what he was doing. (SO I SAY LET HIM OWNE UP TO IT)

  • , 2010-02-24 10:13:22

    My brother too was abused by our stepfather in the 70’s, and kept quiet for years...he "abuses" himself now with alcohol and risky lifestyle, not only hurting himself but his family. Because he didn’t speak out (quiet boy) he was great prey for my sick stepfather...he used to tell him if you tell anyone I’ll kill your mom and other siblings. He was 9 years old when it started and 17 when it ended. Stepfather is now dead and my brother is living a life, like he too is dead. I’m his sister and he knows that when’s he ready to "deal" with what happened to him, I’m here. That’s all I can do. I pray that the authorities take into consideration the hell and prison Vargas has already endured. May God bring justice to this unfortunate situation!

  • , 2010-02-24 11:49:16

    Priest who spoke out against sex abuse by priests was victim of suicide A priest who spoke out against sex abuse by priests was the victim of a suicide or an assisted suicide. Fr. James Chevedden’s assisted suicide or assisted suicide at the San Jose, Calif. courthouse parking structure occurred while he was on jury duty. However the San Jose police did not want to investigate although it occurred a few minutes walk from their headquarters. Fr. Jerold Lindner, a credibility accused Jesuit abuser, with settlements of over $2 million, was the last Jesuit to see Fr. Chevedden alive on that fateful day. Fr. Thomas Smolich, S.J., President, Jesuit Conference of the United States, Washington, DC, was personally involved with Fr. Chevedden’s sad case. And the community of Chinese Catholics at St. Joseph’s Parish in Fremont, California lost their beloved priest. In 2002 Fr. Chevedden, fluent in Mandarin, traveled to Boston to inquire about a parish assignment in a parish that had many Chinese Catholics.

  • No More Victims in Fort Bragg!, 2010-03-09 06:15:41

    It takes alot of guts to report abuse, I know from experience. When nothing is done about it after the victim reports it, the victim never feels safe , never gets peace. The system failed Aaron Vargas. The police are just doing their job in prosecuting him but why didn’t they worry about doing their job when it came to the man who abused Aaron? Maybe the police knew Aaron from incidents of law breaking in the past and didn’t feel he deserved justice, maybe the abuser was such a nice guy that it was ok to let him abuse boys. Either way if Aaron is guilty then so are the police who did nothing. Our children in this community were left like sitting ducks to be abused because nothing was done about it. It happens all the time. At least we have one less child molester out their hurting more children. Who is going to hold the police accountable for doing nothing ? How many more child molesters are out their after they were reported. We will never know because the police are not held accountable! They can do what they want to or not do what they don’t want to do.I do not know Aaron personally, I’ve never met the man. I do know how he feels though. Maybe Aaron didn’t want to leave the abuser out their abusing more children. Maybe the thought haunted him till he went crazy from the thought. What ever happens to him I personally thank him. My grandson was getting ready to get a Big brother, thank god Aaron saved him from getting the same fate he had.

  • , 2010-04-07 21:03:30

    I to was abused be a neighborhood man who was a public servant in my community. It started when I was 12 and ended when I was 17. I endured years of depression and I did turn to a bottle. I finally stopped drinking only after suffering a heart attack at the age of 43. I really have 2 problems with this as of now, is he still doing this to someone else, and also I would like to thank my dead father for not being able to go to him for help, because if I did I probably would have gotten the crap beat out of me. Parents watchout for your child because it can happen to anyone. As far as Aaron goes I know how he felt, but you have to figure this guy was still showing up at his door while Aarons wife and child was there....I am sorry to say I think I would have done the same thing. Aaron chin up, you are sort of a hero to me. WAC

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