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Former Loyola Elementary School student says music teacher was 'weird' with him in 1983

Tami Abdollah / KPCC

Gerald Nafpaktitis, 39, was a sixth grader at Loyola Village Elementary School's performing arts magnet in 1983 to 1984 when he got to know his music teacher Vance Miller, now accused of sexual abuse by multiple students.

At the time, Nafpaktitis was an 11-year-old student and Miller a 31-year-old teacher who had been teaching at LAUSD for about eight years.

For much of that school year, Nafpaktitis traveled with Miller weekly after class to the Westchester Family YMCA two miles away to play racquetball. Afterward the two would shower naked a couple feet away from each other in the locker room. Often they would then head to the Hollywood Bowl, where Miller worked as an usher, to see a show.

"His whole thing was like you have to shower after you get all sweaty before we go to the Hollywood Bowl," Nafpaktitis said.

Nafpaktitis said his parents knew about the plans and were OK with it. His mother once asked what Nafpaktitis would do if Miller touched him inappropriately, and Nafpaktitis told her he would punch him. That seemed to satisfy her, and Miller never touched Nafpaktitis inappropriately, he said.

“I think I was strong enough, physically and mentally, that there was a line he couldn’t cross with me,” Nafpaktitis said. “But he took every advantage of me that he could, without crossing that line.”

Every year, Nafpaktitis’s mom would exchange Christmas cards with Miller and they continued to stay in touch. The contact irritated Nafpaktitis, and the memory of having showered with his teacher - that there was something wrong about it - nagged at him.

“I repeatedly, over the years would bring it up, looking for some sort of response from my mom...and she always just kind of didn’t make a big deal about it,” Nafpaktitis said. “Because I don’t remember him actually touching me. I didn’t want to be the one person making a big deal about something 20 years ago. I just want to go back and say it happened.”

When Nafpaktitis received an email about the allegations against Miller Friday night, he said he wasn’t surprised. “I figured it was a matter of time."

Nafpaktitis said another boy would come with him to the YMCA every now and then and also play racquetball and then shower with Miller afterward. At one point the boys spoke about how strange it was that they were showering with their teacher and the boy got upset and called Miller a pervert. The boy stopped playing racquetball with them afterward.

Nafpaktitis said Miller would often talk in the shower with him. Once when showering Miller brought up the other boy’s behavior and related a strange incident to the 11-year-old Nafpaktitis. According to Nafpaktitis, Miller told him the boy had gotten an erection in the shower. Miller said he'd then turned on the cold water "so he wasn't embarrassed," Nafpaktitis said.

“It was all how Vance was saving the day by reaching and turning up the cold water to make...[his erection] go down," said Nafpaktitis. "It’s just a weird conversation to have with your sixth grade student.”

And yet, aside from the awkward moments in the shower, Miller was cool and fun. He took Nafpaktitis to his first rock concert at the Hollywood Bowl to see the Thompson Twins as well as many other classical music concerts. Part of the ritual included a stop at Popeyes for fried chicken on the way over to the show.

“That was a big deal. I loved Popeyes. And racquetball was fun and the Hollywood Bowl was fun,” Nafpaktitis said. “But being in the locker room, it wasn’t only just the shower, it was after you were done showering, we would get out and change in the locker room, and he would just linger, linger naked in front of me. I remember that was weird. I’m getting dressed, why are you still naked?...It’s an uncomfortable memory.”

Nafpaktitis said Miller knew his family and had one of his two sisters in his class also at one point. But none of them hung out with the teacher the way he did. After the sixth grade Nafpaktitis went on to Orville Wright Middle School and then Westchester High School.

Meanwhile, Nafpaktitis’s mom continued to keep in touch with Miller through Christmas cards. When Nafpaktitis was going through a rough patch with his family in ninth grade, he went to stay with Miller for five days in his cramped apartment on Inglewood Avenue in Hawthorne.

There Nafpaktitis, then 14, saw a partly deflated blowup doll dressed in fishnet lingerie stashed under Miller’s bed and a wall full of Playboy magazines in the teacher’s walk-in closet; the images are seared in his mind. The adopted son of a professor and a psychologist, Nafpaktitis lived a pretty sheltered life, and his parents were very “straight-laced,” he said.

Nafpaktitis had never seen either of those things in his life and he asked Miller about them. Miller, seeming embarrassed, gave brief explanations.

“He’s a mentor, he’s a role model, a music teacher, a cool guy, but then he has this secret that’s confusing,” Nafpaktitis said.“It changed me, it completely sexualized me. That was the specific moment where — ‘What’s that?’” It’s so weird and so creepy.”

The small Loyola Village Elementary School in Westchester is located just north of Los Angeles International Airport and two miles from the beach. It is where Miller, now 59, taught for 15 years before transferring to Hamilton High School’s music magnet program, where he taught for 18 years.

Principal Melinda Goodall said Monday the school had heard no allegations of abuse related to Miller’s time there, and referred all comment to the district. The district could not provide the information Monday, a district spokesman said.

Miller is now being investigated by the LAPD who are looking into new allegations that the teacher showered naked with students at a local gym as recently as several years ago. He and the district are being sued in one civil lawsuit on allegations of sexual abuse and negligence. And today, L.A. Unified's board will begin dismissal proceedings for Miller in closed session.

“We’re just learning of the allegations and take them very seriously,” said Anel Henry, risk manager for the YMCA of Metropolitan Los Angeles, which has 25 locations in the area. “ I can verify that Mr. Miller is a member, but I don’t have any information pertaining to his activity in the facilities.”

The LAPD investigated Miller last spring, but the L.A. County district attorney's office did not file charges because of "insufficient evidence," said spokeswoman Sandi Gibbons. The L.A. city attorney also did not file charges because of the statute of limitations, according to the LAPD.

Miller would not comment Monday. His attorney Drew Antablin said that Miller “adamantly denies” the allegations he is accused of and said Miller has a “spotless outstanding record as a fabulous educator.” Many students have spoken out in his defense.

For Nafpaktitis, the memories have torn at him over the years. On the one hand: “He’s such a nice guy, that it makes it seem OK." But on the other hand: “Just imagine the number of people between me and now that he’s been weird with.”

“I’ve always harbored resentment,” Nafpaktitis said. “I feel like he kind of stole my innocence. He exposed me to things I didn’t need to be exposed to at that age.”

Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).