Arrest leaves gamers, Game Keep shop owner shaken
Tuesday, September 21 @ Central Daylight Time
A local community bound by the camaraderie of playing imaginative games is worried about being misunderstood after an employee of a local gaming store was arrested Thursday, accused of raping a 12-year-old boy.
"Ninety-nine percent of us are nice, normal people," said full-time mom and part-time artist Melissa Gay. "We're just as horrified about this as everyone else."
Jeremy Paul Duffer, 33, of 3417 Lebanon Pike in Hermitage, a part-time general manager at The Game Keep on Lebanon Pike in Hermitage, told police he engaged in various sexual acts with a boy then 12 years old over a period of a year to 18 months.
Metro police said interviews with Duffer led them to believe there may have been more victims.
The gamers — people gather at each other's houses to play board games, trading-card games or the interactive storytelling phenomenon known as role-playing — are worried that the arrest will reflect poorly on an already misunderstood group and hurt business at a popular store.
"We seek to protect our children, too," said Gay, 36, who games with other parents and who started playing Dungeons and Dragons with her father in 1978.
Karl Myers, owner of The Game Keep, said yesterday that he was "blindsided" by the arrest of his longtime employee.
"It's a complete betrayal of me and my store."
Duffer was a "good salesman" and "always great with kids," said Myers, who came back from dinner Thursday and found police milling about the store, taking pictures and talking to Duffer.
None of the alleged abuse is believed to have happened at the store, police said.
"This is a safe place for kids," Myers said. "There are always groups of people around."
Before a Night Court commissioner set his bond at $300,000 — $50,000 for each of three counts of child rape and three counts of aggravated sexual battery — Duffer seemed not to grasp the gravity of the situation.
He asked the judge to set a low bail and said he wanted to work out a deal with his employer so he could continue to work at the store, just not on children's nights.
"No way in hell," Myers growled. "He is persona non grata here. We don't do that."
If Duffer does manage to get out of jail on bail, Myers said, he should send someone else to pick up his possessions at the shop.
Myers said that he had received several calls of support from his customers since Duffer's arrest was reported in newspaper and television accounts but that he remained worried his business may still be hurt.
He had not received any negative calls as of yesterday afternoon, he said.
In an e-mail to The Tennessean, Jarrod Henry of Bellevue wrote a defense of Myers and gaming, "Board games teach fellowship, economy, team work, and togetherness in a way that throwing in a DVD or booting a video game just can't. Please don't punish a hard working, well-meaning man, because of the selfish and cruel actions of another."
Computer programmer Darrell LuAllen, 35, has been a customer at The Game Keep for about seven years.
He's been a gamer since 1979 and helps run the gaming component of a local science fiction convention, Xanadu.
"We are all very concerned it's going to paint the store and the community in a really bad light," LuAllen said. "I could pull up news stories of churches, day care centers and other places children are involved where there are one or two bad people. But one person does not represent a community."
Todd Lyles, a gamer for 20 years, said parents who are now worried about taking their kids to the store had "a valid concern."
"But while what happened is horrible, it could have happened at the YMCA," he said. "Parents need to talk to their children."