There are limits on our compassion

Abigail Carlin, Columnist

On October 4th of this year, according to Daniel Figueroa IV of The Tampa Bay Times, 22-year-old Robert Grassano-Mazeika began chatting with a 13-year-old on a chat forum.

Pretending to be a 17-year-old, Grassano exchanged graphic pictures, described how he wanted to have sex with her, and agreed to meet her at a pool to fulfill his sexual fantasies.

By some stroke of luck and good fortune, an undercover detective was posing as the 13-year-old online and Grassano was arrested.

He and 12 other men are now facing a total of 58 charges, 57 of which are felonies, according to the article (“Polk child sex sting arrests include two men who worked at Disney World, one HIV positive man”). His arrest was part of a sting operation called Operation Cyber Guardian, which targeted men in Polk County, Florida who were trying to have sex with 13- and 14-year-old children.

Grassano used to go to Eastern. He was in a fraternity here and he went by “Billy Bob.” He was in the marching band and was friends with my freshman roommate, countless people on my floor and we knew each other (not well, by any means, but I knew him).

However, after my first semester on campus I made it known that I did not want him around me, nor did I want to be anywhere where he might be.

I ran into him a few times over the years and it was always unpleasant. I cannot say exactly when, but at some point he disappeared, and I was glad. Out of sight and out of mind, Grassano faded into an unsavory memory that passes my mind from time to time.

That was, until, someone sent me the article.

It is strange to know that there are people out there in the world who want to do harm onto others. Grassano, as I knew him, was not someone I necessarily trusted, but I could never have imagined that he would become a predator of 13-year-olds.

Who could have ever predicted that? For heaven’s sake, he was a music education major when I knew him.

I do not know what lead him on this path, and I never want to find out. I believe in reconciliation and forgiveness, but there are some things that cannot be forgotten or forgiven. I pride Eastern and the community fostered in Charleston.

After all, on this campus there are advocates and allies for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, racism, prejudice and sexism. There is a food bank to support those who struggle with food insecurity. Professors and graduate assistants will stop at nothing to support and encourage their students.

Grassano is not a reflection of Eastern or the student body. Perhaps that is why he left.

A part of me feels guilty. I cannot describe it, exactly, but one cannot hear a story like this and not feel a pit in their stomach.

What Grassano did is inexcusable and disgusting, but I wish his family and friends comfort in this time.

If you or anyone you know feel like you might be targeted by an online predator, please contact your local police department.

There are some very dangerous people out there, even people who walk amongst us in the world, and all we can do is try and keep each other safe.

Abigail Carlin can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].