Victim’s mother speaks out

Her son was becoming distant. He never wanted to be around his sisters and his mother felt like she was losing him. When he told her, “I want to change my last name to Wilson,” Linda Hernandez knew something wasn’t right.

Hernandez is the mother of a now-grown man who as a teenager had been a victim of Max Wilson. Wilson, who is currently awaiting trial at the Merrimack County House of Correction for sexual assault charges against a 14-year-old Hopkinton boy, was an Antrim resident for several years leading up to his January arrest.

In a case involving Hernandez’s son, Wilson was convicted in 2005 of sexual assault in the second degree and endangering the welfare of a child in the Suffolk County District Court, in Center Islip, N.Y.

“I think [Wilson] is very dangerous,” Hernandez said in an interview May 21.

Hernandez and her family lived in Shirley, N.Y., when they first met Max Wilson at a Bible study at a friend’s house in 1986. Hernandez describes her first impression of Wilson: “He was a very godly, caring person.”

Through the weekly Bible studies, the Hernandez family grew close to Wilson. She said he always made the children in the group, including her son and her daughters, feel included during the study, and incorporated a children’s moment and songs among the adults.

“That’s why he seems like such a wonderful person. He always made [the children] feel included,” Hernandez said. The Bible studies “are like their fondest memories” she said of her children.

A friendship began between Wilson and the Hernandezes as they participated in his Bible studies. He mentored families with his studies, Hernandez said, visiting people’s homes and investing in the families. “That was his thing,” Hernandez said.

Wilson became such a good family friend that the Hernandezes viewed him like an uncle.

Eventually, Wilson was in need of work outside of his Bible studies, and Hernandez’s husband hired Wilson to work for his kitchen refacing business. But shortly before her husband’s death in the late 1990s, Wilson stopped working in the family business. He was still a close friend of the family, however, and went to her husband’s funeral.

After her husband passed, Hernandez said, Wilson started spending more time with her son and acted like a mentor.

“It started off all normal. [Wilson] would take [her son] places, help him do household repairs, help with homework, set a good example, fix squeaky doors in our home,” Hernandez said.

Over the following months, her son started relying on Wilson. Wilson would volunteer to take care of her son when she wasn’t available.

Her son would defend Wilson at the drop of a hat, she said, and she thought the reason her son was acting that way had to do to reaching puberty. He was 14 years old and missing his father.

Her son started to develop anger issues and she felt like he was withdrawing from the family. It was around this time that her son told her that he wanted to change his last name to Wilson. There came a point when the only type of punishment that would have an impact was limiting time with Wilson.

In October 2002, Hernandez caught her son watching a movie he wasn’t allowed to watch. She called Wilson and told him her son couldn’t study with him that day, and Wilson tried to change her mind over the phone. Hernandez said Wilson made her feel guilty for what she was doing.

“You felt like you knew him really well, then we realized we didn’t know much about him,” Hernandez said about Wilson.

When Hernandez was engaged to be remarried in 2002, she wanted to speak with Wilson with her fiance and talk about not having Wilson spending any more time with her son. Wilson never showed up for the conversation and that was the last the family saw of him.

Hernandez’s son asked if he would ever see Wilson again and she said no. She asked him if anything ever happened with Wilson that should not have, and her son said he didn’t know.

Hernandez said her son also told his older sister that he thought Wilson was homosexual, and said Wilson had hugged him in a weird way. Hernandez and her son agreed to start a conversation regarding Wilson by writing back and forth in a journal. Hernandez didn’t want to go into details about what her son revealed, but she said, “I don’t think my son ever came forward with everything that happened.”

Hernandez said her son was willing to talk to local authorities, which led to Wilson’s arrest.

Wilson was eventually convicted in New York of sexual assault in the second degree and endangering the welfare of a child. He was also sentenced to 11 months in prison; the maximum sentence he could have served was a year, Hernandez said, but the judge gave Wilson the option to pay into a fund for counseling for her son, to which he contributed $400. This paid for most of the counseling and it took one month off of Wilson’s prison sentence.

The judge’s sentence also required Wilson to register as a level-three sex offender, the highest level. It requires him to register with local police twice a year, for life.

Hernandez periodically checks up on Wilson.

“Whenever it gets too hot, he moves to another location,” Hernandez said.

She recently discovered he was registering in New Hampshire and learned about his new charges.

The Antrim Police Department has brought forward five charges against Wilson, which include a Class A felony for prohibition of child care services for “instruction or guidance of minor children, specifically, he conducted Bible study classes that included the attendance of minor children,” the indictment reads. As a sex offender, he was prohibited from involvement in such classes.

Wilson also faces a Class B felony charge for duty to report. He failed to register with the Antrim police as a sex offender between July 3, 2012, and Aug. 31, 2012, according to the indictment. Antrim police are also charging Wilson with three misdemeanors for sexual assault, which allege that Wilson assaulted a 14-year-old boy from Hopkinton on Dec. 28, Dec. 29 and Dec. 30, 2013, in Antrim, according to Hillsborough County Superior Court North documents.

In the Antrim case, Wilson was living with a family in town and met the boy from Hopkinton through the family he was staying with, said Merrimack County Attorney Catherine Ruffle in a March interview. The boy’s family didn’t know Wilson was a registered sex offender and let their child spend time with Wilson in Antrim, at the Antrim family’s home and elsewhere. Ruffle said that the family Wilson lived with believed he was wrongly convicted in his two prior assault cases.

Wilson is accused of assaulting this young boy whom Wilson was allegedly mentoring. The goal was to help the boy get better grades and be closer to God, Antrim Detective Jason Lepine said in a March interview.

“Instead of helping him with his algebra like he was supposed to, Wilson is accused of acting inappropriately at the boy’s home, Wilson’s home and even out in public,” Ruffle said.

On Wednesday, officials at the Merrimack County House of Correction said Wilson was still being held in lieu of $45,000 cash bail only. Wilson faces sexual assault charges through both the Hillsborough and Merrimack County Courts, since the incidents of assault took place in Antrim, Concord and Hopkinton.

According to New Hampshire Trial Court staff on Thursday, Wilson has a dispositional conference scheduled for June 13 at the Merrimack County Superior Court, which will determine his plea. On July 3, Wilson will have a dispositional hearing at the Hillsborough North Superior Court to determine if there is enough evidence to go to trial.

Hernandez’s son was not the first young boy to fall victim to Wilson. Wilson was convicted of sexual assault charges in 1981 in Washington, Penn. In that case, Wilson was the pastor at a church there and assaulted a boy from the congregation, Ruffle said.

Hernandez said she’s proud of her son for speaking up. Detectives told her that only a small percentage of boys her son’s age come forward after a sexual assault and an even smaller percent would ever be willing to testify.

“Because of my son’s testimony, Max went to jail,” Hernandez said. “Max will get his punishment. It’s not even close to the damage he causes the family. All [sex offenders] get is a slap on the back of the hand.”

Hernandez has a message for the parents. “The biggest factor in preventing is to believe in yourself as a parent,” Hernandez said. “That’s what Max takes advantage of. You really need to believe that God has equipped you to raise your own child. Even when you’re feeling like you can’t do it, you are the best one to make the decisions for your child.”

She read excerpts from her journal, with words to the parents of the boy from Hopkinton: “Stand with your son. So-called Christians will question him. There will be confusion. There will be guilt and anger.”

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