A pediatrician from Johnstown, Pennsylvania, has been charged with abusing more than 30 of his patients, one as young as 2 months old.
Dr. Johnnie Wilson Barto, 70, was charged in three separate cases in January, March, and April.
At that time, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro made it clear that if other victims came forward, they would be respected, protected, and their accusations treated seriously.
Encouraged by his statements, abuse victims began calling a special hotline. Ultimately 33 victims stepped forward to tell their stories. Now Barto is facing dozens of new charges.
Multiple Victims, Multiple Child Abuse Charges
In January Barto was charged with for indecent assault, corruption of minors, and endangering the welfare of children, for abusing a 12-year-old patient.
At that time Shapiro called for any other victims to come forward and tell their stories.
“We are concerned there could be other victims in this case, and we want to hear from you,” Shapiro said. “If you know something or saw something, I want you to call my office or local police. We’ll pursue every lead we receive.”
In March Shapiro announced new charges against the doctor for indecent assault of a 14-year-old family relative of the first victim. When he announced those charges, he repeated his plea:
“We believe there are more victims out there in the Johnstown and Altoona area. Please come forward. We will protect you, and we will hold this predator accountable for his crimes.”
In April, Barto was again charged, this time with indecent assault, corruption of minors, unlawful contact with a minor and endangering the welfare of children, for the repeated abuse over a span of years of a 7-year-old family member of the other two victims.
Once again the attorney general repeated his plea for victims to come forward.
“Our investigators have heard from other victims, and our investigation is active and ongoing,” Shapiro said. “I thank those who have already come forward, and I believe them. I want any victims and parents to hear this from me: Please come forward and share any information you have.”
Victims Found the Courage to Speak Out
Attorney General Shapiro’s pledge to protect accusers and to investigate their claims seriously, paid off.
More than two dozen victims, emboldened by the fact that they would be protected and that their claims would be taken seriously, decided to break their silence and call the hotline. Their testimony revealed an ongoing horror story of abuse stretching back two decades, with children being mistreated and er the guise of medical examination.
On July 27, Shapiro announced 69 new charges against Barto involving 29 new victims. The felony charges included involuntary deviate sexual intercourse and multiple counts of felony aggravated indecent assault, plus multiple counts of indecent assault and endangering the welfare of children.
“Barto used his position of authority as a pediatrician—the family doctor everyone relied on to treat and heal their children—and abused it to feed his own, sick sexual desires,” Shapiro said at a press conference with Richland Township Police Chief Michael Burgan and members of his prosecution team. “Our agents and Richland police continued interviewing young victims—some assaulted by Barto as recently as January—and older victims as well, who came forward and told of being assaulted by Barto years ago in his office, when they came as young children, seeking his care.”
Decades of Abuse
According to the attorney general, the abuse started in the 1980s. Many of the victims were between 8 and 12 years old, of both sexes, but Barto violated at least one girl who was only 2 weeks old. He was also charged with violating a 21-month-old girl on seven occasions.
Most of the attacks occurred in an examination room at Laurel Pediatric Associates of Cambria County. He also attacked patients while treating them at local hospitals.
Barto generally waited for the patient’s parents to leave the exam room, or placed his body between the parents and the patient, the attorney general stated.
Barto was confronted by the mother—also a doctor—of a 16-year-old girl he assaulted during an exam in 1997. When confronted, Barto promised never to again be alone with an underage female patient. Because the issue was never made public, Barto continued his habit of abusing child patients until he was finally arrested in January 2018.
“I want to thank the brave survivors who have come forward and shared with our investigators their traumatizing experiences at the hands of Dr. Barto,” Shapiro said.
“I have a message for these courageous individuals, and for any person or institution that believes they can get away with sexually abusing children and covering it up. We will pursue every allegation of child sexual abuse wherever we find it—in a doctor’s office, in a school or church—and we will hold child sexual predators accountable for their crimes under Pennsylvania law.”
Abuse Victims Can Call Hotline
Shapiro has set up a special hotline for Barto’s victims at 412-565-7680. Alternatively, victims or their family members can contact the Richland Township Police at 814-266-8333 to report abuse.
“Every parent sends their child to a pediatrician to make sure they are healthy and getting the care they need. Parents rely on those doctors to examine their children, give them medical advice, and guide them as they try to do their best for their children,” Shapiro concluded.
“Barto violated every tenet of his oath as a doctor and as a decent human being—violating the trust of his victims, their parents and of the entire community,”Shapiro also said.
If Barto is convicted he will probably spend the rest of his life behind bars.
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