Duggar Family Friends Speak Out About Molestation Scandal: 'It's a Real Tragedy for the Family'
Once news broke that Josh Duggar had been investigated as a teen for molesting five underage girls – four of whom were his sisters – the residents of Tontitown, Arkansas – and its neighboring towns in Washington County – found themselves under an unprecedented level of media scrutiny.
The attention – and Josh’s actions – were initially met with a general sense of anger, indignation and embarrassment on part of the county’s residents, though others were sympathetic to Duggar heads of household Michelle, 48, and Jim Bob, 49.
“It’s tough on the girls,” Grace Branham, a longtime friend of the Duggars, tells PEOPLE. “When will they stop all this publicity? It’s time to put it to rest. It’s a real tragedy for the family. Everybody I talk to is so tired of it. I think it’s horrible,” says the 85-year-old public schoolteacher, who attended Jill’s wedding to Derick Dillard last June.
Rhonda Doudna, an alderwoman on the Tontitown town council, says that she “just want[s] some peace to come back [to the town].” Doudna, 50, who went to the same high school as Michelle, adds that the Duggar children “are the most respectable I’ve ever seen” and that Michelle was a “very popular” cheerleader in high school.
RELATED VIDEO: The Duggars Break Their Silence
However, Doudna, who lives just two miles away from the Duggar family compound, was “shocked” to hear Michelle and Jim Bob accuse Springdale police chief Kathy O’Kelly of having an "agenda" when she released the 2006 felony investigation into Josh’s repeated acts of molestation in 2002 and 2003 following a Freedom of Information request.
“What happened to them was wrong, with everybody pointing fingers at them before the facts were known,” says Doudna, who owns the town’s local dry cleaner. “I still don’t know all the facts. But then they pointed fingers at the police chief. That’s when all of this started going sideways.”
RELATED VIDEO: Longtime Duggar Friend Speaks Out About The Scandal
Lori Bolen, who has known Michelle and Jim Bob since they were a young couple with just one child, says that the couple have always been “very personable. They were always willing to greet anybody even before [ 19 Kids and Counting began airing in 2008]. They don’t keep to themselves like a clan,” Bolen added. “They are church-oriented but also people-oriented.”
Finally, although it was the Springdale PD that released the 2006 police report, a clerk at the Tontitown Police Department tells PEOPLE that their phones have been “tearing up,” receiving “calls from all around the country. Some want to know why we released the records and others [are asking], ‘Why aren’t you prosecuting Josh?’ It’s not us!”
The Tontitown PD source says that “the victims [aren’t getting] any closure” with the media furor, and neither is the town: “I just want peace.”
• Reporting by JOHN ANDERSON