The years that followed that day in the duck blind were the worst 14-year-old Kelsey Clossen ever experienced.
Her classmates called her a slut. Police doubted her story. The men she accused of raping her continued to walk free.
In her torment, she began cutting herself, then drinking booze and smoking weed. She became promiscuous. She thought of killing herself. She struggled, dropping out her freshman year at Red Bud High School.
“It was the darkest, the worst place I had ever been in my life,” Clossen said after the attack. “I started cutting. I didn’t care if I was alive or dead. The pain was that bad. I gave up. I couldn’t deal with it anymore.”
On the evening of Aug. 5, 2009, Clossen rode her bike to an area known as Dry Lake between Baldwin and the Kaskaskia River. There, five men led her to a duck blind where she said two of the men sexually assaulted her as the others looked on. At first she did not identify the men, but later named two suspects.
Then Baldwin Police Chief Alan Young, who is now a Randolph County sheriff’s deputy, said he questioned her in front of neighbors in an open area of Red Bud Hospital where she initially sought medical treatment after the assault. Clossen’s grandparents and legal guardians, Tim and Sandra Clossen, said the duck blind where the assault occurred was never secured or processed for evidence.
“They could’ve handled it a lot better than what they did,” Kelsey Clossen said.
The attack traumatized the teen, but the doubt by police, townspeople, classmates and even her mother added to her pain, she said.
Young said he believes Clossen’s story changed. At first she said she didn’t know the men, but then named two of them, according to Randolph County sheriff’s reports. Other details about the specifics of the attack changed, too. Young said spider webs covered some of the path to the duck blind, which showed no one had walked over it recently.
Tim Clossen disputed Young’s claim, saying police only shined a flashlight down the path.
Police weren’t the only ones doubting Clossen. School became unbearable after Clossen said she was mocked and ridiculed by her peers.
“They were calling me a bitch, a slut, a whore and that it wasn’t a rape and I wanted it and made all this up. They said it was consensual and I needed to stop lying,” Clossen said.
The physical examination at Children’s Hospital in St. Louis a few hours after the attack showed injuries. But it was not until nine months later that Young obtained a copy of the medical report, when a reporter provided him a copy. At that time, Young said he did not know police were entitled to the report.
Clossen suffered a tear and bruising to her hymen, according to the emergency room physician’s report. Those medical records contained a statement from a social worker that concluded, “Based on the history provided, and the physical evidence as discussed by the physician, this social worker believes that patient was sexually assaulted.”
It took months for police to pick up the rape kit from the same hospital and take it to the Illinois State Police crime lab in Fairview Heights for analysis.
Police didn’t question the two suspects for months. When they were interviewed, four days after BND reporters questioned them, one of the men initially said he was not at the Dry Lake that day and didn’t see Clossen. He later recanted that statement. He told police that he initially lied because he heard rumors that Clossen said he raped her and he was scared and didn’t want anything to do with the case.
The other suspect said he didn’t know Clossen, but said he talked to a teenage girl swimming in the area that day. He denied sexually assaulting the teen.
Police interviewed Clossen’s mother eight months after the assault. She told police her daughter was a “habitual liar” who accused other men of molesting her, according to police reports. Kelsey Clossen earlier told police the two men she named as suspects in her assault often “partied” with her mother.
Sandra Clossen, the girl’s grandmother, applied pressure to Chief Young and then-Randolph County Sheriff Fred Frederking for years in an effort to get the case charged, attending village board meetings and speaking to the BND for several articles in 2010.
Despite his reservations, Frederking presented a case to then-State’s Attorney Randy Rodewald, but no charges were filed.
The possibility of charges dimmed further after a report from State Police scientists showed the rape kit turned up no DNA or foreign pubic hairs, according to Young.
With little physical evidence and a victim who police said had “credibility issues,” Young said he doubted whether a conviction could be won.
“With a jury, it only takes one person with a little bit of a doubt and the defendant walks,” Young said.
In a recent interview, Frederking said he believed something happened to Kelsey Clossen that evening at Dry Lake, but he couldn’t say what.
Time has run out on Clossen’s case. The statute of limitations for rape is three years.
But instead of giving up, Clossen dug in. She enrolled in an alternative school. She went back to counseling, making a promise to graduate in the top 10 percent of her class, to form healthy relationships, and to heal.
Today Clossen, a 19-year-old cosmetology student, said she went through years of counseling to deal with her attack. She said she now understands that she suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The nightmares she used to have nightly now come every few weeks.
She kept a diary as part of her therapy. On a piece of blue construction paper is her drawing that depicts the assault, her attackers, with captions of what was being done. On another page under the heading “Who I am,” she wrote, “I may have had a bad experience but that has only made me stronger as a person!”
Clossen said she still has recurrent thoughts about being raped but tries not to dwell on it. She is the mother of a baby boy, Kyler, and looks ahead to a future with the baby’s father.
“I feel sorry for other girls that this happens to because I know the pain they are going to go through. I know the trauma that is going to be with them for the rest of their lives. To those girls who have had this happen to them, I’m sorry that you had to go through this,” she said.
“I know that I don’t know you and you don’t know me, but I feel sorry for you and I hope that you don’t let this tear you down because one day you will be able to see how much stronger this has made you as a woman. Don’t let them tear you apart.”
Clossen still lives with her grandparents, just a short distance from where she said she was raped five years ago. The sun is setting as the interview with Clossen concludes. To the east, a rainbow appears just above the shed where Clossen found the diary she had stored away.
She looks up and smiles. “It’s good luck,” she said.