Cheyenne Montgomery helped push prestigious prep school Choate Rosemary Hall to uncover a decades-long pattern of sexual misconduct by teachers

By Jeff Truesdell and Elaine Aradillas
August 24, 2017 09:00 AM
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Sexually abused as a child by a family member, Cheyenne Montgomery seized on the chance to change her life after she read about the elite Choate Rosemary Hall boarding school in a catalog at a friend’s house.

In 1989 the academy in Wallingford, Connecticut, that educated John F. Kennedy, Michael Douglas and others awarded a full scholarship to the then-15-year-old Montgomery, who’d grown up in a “shack house” in Randolph, Vermont, with a dirt floor and no indoor bathroom.

But her new life was not all she had expected. When her bare-bones background separated her from more-affluent Choate classmates, Montgomery confessed her isolation to an adult teacher, Angus Mairs, then 27, who was also her live-in dorm adviser.

A close bond developed — and then, in a “confusing” turn for Montgomery, it became sexual, she tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “Kids get crushes on their teachers,” she says. “It was a horrible thing to do to a young person.”

She ended their relationship during her senior year, after the married Mairs had moved away. Against his wishes, Montgomery subsequently revealed what happened to her new dorm adviser, another married teacher named Björn Runquist.

That yielded a new confidante, with a shockingly similar result: “A month before I graduated,” Montgomery says, she and Runquist “did have sex in an empty classroom.”

A teacher who later spotted the two being affectionate on a weekend outing after Montgomery graduated then told the school’s headmaster. Called into the office, Runquist admitted to “an emotional attachment” but not a physical relationship, Montgomery says. Yet in a 2016 Facebook message, he apologized to Montgomery for the pain he caused her.

Montgomery, now 43, says she carried that pain for years.

• For more on the shocking Choate abuse scandal and Cheyenne Montgomery’s decision to speak out, subscribe now to PEOPLE or pick up this week’s issue, on newsstands Friday.

Cheyenne Montgomery as a student at Choate Rosemary Hall in 1990
| Credit: Courtesy Cheyenne Montgomery
Choate Rosemary Hall
| Credit: Christopher Capozziello/The New York Times

“I shaved my head because I didn’t want to appear attractive,” says Montgomery, who followed her Choate graduation with a full scholarship to the distinguished liberal arts school Reed College in Portland, Oregon, where she dropped out after just one semester. (She eventually returned to earn a biology degree.)

“I became really paranoid I was going to die,” she says.

A Boston Globe series about sexual abuse at prep schools finally led her to unburden herself of her past. Montgomery shared her experiences on her Choate alumni group’s Facebook page and “my classmates really rallied,” she says.

Together they wrote to Choate officials, and the school launched an independent investigation in 2016.

The concluding 48-page report, released last April, described abuse, stalking and, in one instance, a rape — all tied to a dozen named teachers at the school dating back to the 1960s.

Both Mairs and Runquist were cited by investigators as adults who engaged in sexual misconduct. Neither could be reached by PEOPLE. Runquist earlier denied through an attorney that he had any relationship with Montgomery. Mairs reportedly responded to a Boston Globe reporter by email in June 2016 to say he did not have a sexual relationship with “Cheyenne or any others.”

From left: Montgomery with her wife, Amy, and kids Guthrie and Sayer at the family’s Portland home.

“People don’t realize how many dangerous individuals become teachers,” says Montgomery’s attorney, Eric MacLeish, who also represented plaintiffs in the 2003 Boston clergy sex-abuse scandal. “This is the next wave of abuse … and [one of] the largest number of perpetrators named in one of these reports.”

• Watch the full episode of People Crime: Prep School Sex Abuse Scandal, streaming now on People/Entertainment Weekly Network (PEN). Go to PEOPLE.com/PEN or download the app on your favorite streaming device.

Today, Montgomery is a high school biology teacher in the Portland area, sharing her days with wife Amy, 44, a nursing student, and her three kids from a previous marriage, son Sayer, 18, and 15-year-old twins Guthrie and Simone.

Therapy continues to play a role in her healing. Secure in knowing she’s helped victims like herself and exposed others’ abuse, she is also now writing a book.

“If we keep secrets,” Montgomery says, “it happens again and again and again.”