WATERVILLE — After more than two months of confusion and uncertainty, two pictures have emerged of former Waterville Senior High School principal Donald J. Reiter, and co-workers, fellow educators and Waterville residents are having trouble reconciling the disparate visions.

Many who worked closely with Reiter said in interviews that he was an outstanding professional who never showed a hint of trouble, and they still respect and support him.

But others’ faith in him has been rattled, if not shattered, as authorities prepare to allege that Reiter has an unseen dark side.

The trusted and celebrated educator, authorities contend, abused his image and authority to have inappropriate relationships with students, asking a senior at Waterville high school to have sex with him and threatening to keep her from graduating if she didn’t.

Last week, Reiter, 44, was fired as principal of Waterville Senior High School and charged by the district attorney with a misdemeanor count of official oppression after school officials and police investigated the allegation that he asked the 18-year-old student for sex. And it’s far from over as Reiter mulls an appeal of his firing even as he faces the pending charge and additional allegations that have surfaced in New Hampshire.

The allegations against Reiter surprise Richard Abramson, who was superintendent at Readfield-based Regional School Unit 38 when Reiter served as board chairman.

“Nothing would have led me to believe something like that was going on, nothing in my work with Don would have led me to suspect or draw that conclusion,” Abramson said.

A RESPECTED EDUCATOR

In a column he wrote for the Morning Sentinel in 2009, Reiter described how he grew up on Long Island, New York, but moved with his mother and sister to his grandparents’ home in Mount Vernon after his parents divorced.

He attended school in the Maranacook School District that now covers Mount Vernon, Readfield, Manchester and Wayne.

Reiter received a bachelor’s degree in history and political science at Boston University and a master’s degree in education from the University of Southern Maine.

He worked as a social studies teacher and then assistant principal for six years at Mascenic Regional High School in New Ipswich, New Hampshire, before becoming principal at Buckfield Junior-Senior High School in Buckfield in 2004.

Mascenic Regional High School officials have declined to comment except to confirm Reiter worked there.

George Reuter, the current principal at the Buckfield school, was a computer applications teacher at the time Reiter was principal.

“He was and still is respected by the people he worked with at the time,” Reuter said.

Reiter set up an outing club at the school to take students hiking and other outdoor activities, and hosted a morning basketball session at the school for students and staff.

“We respected him,” Reuter said. “There were no indications of anything other than a professional, well-liked principal.”

Another Buckfield teacher who worked with Reiter declined an interview request.

In May 2007, Reiter was hired as the new principal at Waterville Senior High School. He was selected by the school board out of 17 applicants for the job and hired by a unanimous vote of the board.

ARRIVING IN WATERVILLE

At the time he was hired, Reiter said his interests included the outdoors, hunting, fishing and watching and playing sports.

His energy and enthusiasm for education was high.

“I think most people’s philosophy of education is to try and improve the educational environment for the kids,” Reiter said in 2007. “There’s always room for improvement.”

He also expressed a love for reading, and was known to be an eloquent writer.

Dan Allen, a literacy specialist at Buckfield, said at the time of Reiter’s hiring in Waterville: “I worked under four principals, at least, and he’s the best one I’ve ever worked with.”

In a 2008 column in the Morning Sentinel written by a Waterville high student, Reiter was praised for opening up a line of communication with the community through his writing in the Parent Press, a high school newsletter.

“Most administrators spend their time with internal communication that leaves little room for external communication. Mr. Reiter has figured out a way to do both very effectively,” Waterville Superintendent Eric Haley was quoted as saying in the column.

The column went on to describe Reiter’s writing in the Parent Press, saying:

“In relating some of his childhood experiences, educational background – and admittedly inconsistent effort at school – Reiter allowed parents to see inside the man who would be guiding their children. He related his dashed hopes of attending Yale, his memories of the attempted assassination of President Reagan and his tough adjustment after moving from Long Island to Maine.”

Reiter had built a home in Mount Vernon on land that was given to him by his grandfather, where he lived with his wife, Terri Hewett Reiter, and their young daughter. His wife filed for divorce in September, weeks after Reiter was suspended as principal by Haley. She did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Around the same time he was hired in Waterville, Reiter also became involved with the school board for the Maranacook-area RSU 38 and was the board chairman for several years.

According to Mount Vernon Town Clerk Rachel Meader, Reiter was elected to a one-year term on the school board in 2007, and in 2009 was elected to a three-year term. He decided not to run for re-election in 2012 because he didn’t have the time, Meader said.

Abramson, the RSU 38 superintendent when Reiter was board chairman, said Reiter was committed to education and expected to rise through the ranks as an administrator.

“I think he was an individual that certainly cared a lot for education; he wanted to do the right thing for kids in the district,” Abramson said.

SCHOOL SUPPORT

By all accounts, Reiter was a popular and respected principal at Waterville Senior High School.

His popularity in the community was on display during the recent dismissal hearings before the Waterville Board of Education, when supporters, including high school staff, gave him a standing ovation and chanted, “Don, Don, Don!” Last Friday, students and parents staged a demonstration to support Reiter outside the high school.

But Shanon Dixon, a mother of six Waterville high graduates and a vocal supporter of Reiter, questioned her conviction last week after Waterville police announced they were investigating allegations from former students in New Hampshire that Reiter had inappropriate relationships with them while he was there. One former student produced 147 pages of letters Reiter allegedly wrote to her that corroborate the relationship, police said.

“I’m not 100 percent sure he’s guilty. I’m not 100 percent sure he’s not guilty,” Dixon said last week.

During testimony given in open session, character witnesses in support of Reiter included Joyce Blakney, a high school math teacher and a president of the Waterville Education Association; Claudia Pellerin, Reiter’s former secretary; and Carol Laqualia, a high school guidance counselor. All three said they thought the charges were unbelievable when they heard them.

Reached last week, both Blakney and Laqualia declined to comment further, citing the atmosphere at the high school.

“We are trying really hard to heal,” Blakney said.

HARD FOR VICTIMS

Despite praise for Reiter, the case is a prime example of why victims of sexual assault are often hesitant to come forward with allegations, according to victim advocates.

It also provides insight into how sexual assaults can happen repeatedly at the hands of the same person with no one ever noticing, and how communities can sometimes be blinded by their trust for a person being accused of such a crime before all the facts in the case are known, said Donna Strickler, executive director of the Sexual Assault Crisis and Support Center, and Cara Courchesne, communications director for the Maine Coalition against Sexual Assault.

“It’s concerning to me the level of support that was given to somebody accused of this type of behavior, particularly without knowing the facts of the case,” Strickler said. “I also think there’s a lack of understanding about the impact that support has not only on this victim, but victims around our community.

“Everyone has a right to believe what they believe and show support for either person, but it’s the way that support happened and the level to which it happened that’s concerning.”

Both said that there is no profile of a typical sexual offender, and that even people who are perceived as leaders or good people in the community can commit acts of sexual violence. Victims may also have a harder time being believed if they are in a position of lesser authority, whether it’s because they are younger, female or a teenager, Courchesne said.

“When you have a credible person that is being accused, it’s understandable people would have a difficult time believing the allegations and would possibly want to put their support behind that person because they themselves believe it couldn’t be possible,” Strickler said.

Both advocates said that the number of false reports of sexual violence is low – around 2 percent, according to Strickler.

The stigma associated with being a victim of sexual violence is a large part of that, they said.

“What somebody is put through in reporting their experience is oftentimes not pleasant,” Strickler said. “So for somebody to disclose or report this type of crime, it’s not just a report of stealing something from somebody’s home. It’s a very different experience to report sexual assault.”

Still, it can be hard for members of a community to believe a victim because an allegation of sexual violence could also mean that their community is less safe, Courchesne said. It is possible for sexual abuse to continue for a long time without a community ever knowing about it, in part because it often happens “behind closed doors,” Strickler said.

Morning Sentinel Staff Writer Rachel Ohm contributed to this report.