For more than a decade, Luis Gomez sexually preyed on vulnerable elderly residents—capitalising on their failing mental faculties and physical frailty. He thought they would never testify against him because “they are forgetful and they can’t remember”.

His acts were cleverly masked by his seemingly charming demeanour. Accusations of rape just did not fit the innocent façade of a nursing aide well-liked by residents in the multiple nursing homes that he has worked in.

Instead, it was the women who were perceived to have drug-induced hallucinations or attention problems. Even in reported cases that reached the court, the victim’s mental faculties and failing memories remained questionable, thus dismissing their claims as baseless or delusionary.

"He's a real Jekyll and Hyde," says Linda Gomez, in her 60s and who is still married to Gomez.

Finally, truth prevailed.

Despite their medical conditions, two women boldly came forward. One arrived in court with in a wheelchair – with two oxygen tanks behind her – and described the horror of the nightmarish encounter with Gomez in the Brian Centre, where the alleged incident occurred.

This woman, pictured above and at the top of this story, is now in a nursing home where she feels safe. But she is still haunted by what she says happened to her at the Brian Centre in Waynesville, North Carolina. Photo credit: CNN
This woman, pictured above and at the top of this story, is now in a nursing home where she feels safe. But she is still haunted by what she says happened to her at the Brian Centre in Waynesville, North Carolina. Photo credit: CNN

Caregiver convicted of hurting physically helpless residents

Gomez was finally convicted by a North Carolina court on six counts that included forcible rape with a physically helpless victim. The 58-year-old caregiver has been sentenced to at least 23 years behind bars.

"What this man has done for a period of almost a decade is... prey on Alzheimer's patients because they're forgetful and they can't remember and oftentimes, they die," the prosecutor told the judge during sentencing.

"In 2016, Your Honour, he made the grave mistake of hurting the wrong woman. She was brave enough to tell, and she wouldn't be quiet until everybody listened. And because of her, that's the only reason that we are finally able to put him in prison."

Nurse Krista Shalda, who called the police against the wishes of her boss, said she was glad the victims were believed and that something was done about it. The call triggered an investigation and many other women came forward, with their own allegations against Gomez.

"I couldn't live with myself if I did not make the call," said the 36-year-old nurse who once supervised Gomez. "I could not go to bed at night if I knew I was the reason someone was getting sexually assaulted."

However, Shalda was not satisfied with the outcome. “What he did was a lot worse than what he’s paying for.”

Alleged cases of rape and sexual abuse were silenced, court says

In the courtroom, the prosecutor said there were more victims. Six other women have accused him of rape in three different facilities in the area. Some were in their 50s and 60s, and at least one was nearly 90.

Court documents reported that in 2011, a woman insisted he touched her inappropriately but then retracted, saying she was “maybe confused”.

Two years later, a resident at yet another nursing home screamed when she awoke to Gomez touching her. She was living in the Alzheimer's wing, even though she did not suffer from the condition.

In 2015, a resident said Gomez touched her breasts and told her he wanted to marry her. Another woman, who had suffered a stroke, told staff that Gomez molested her. She was promptly committed to the psychiatric unit of the local hospital. One victim had silently endured weeks of sexual abuse that left her terrified.

These were initially dismissed as the victims who were deemed medically unfit and their disclosures could well be delusions. These women could only agonise in silence – until now.

However, Gomez maintains his innocence and is appealing the verdict. His attorney, Joel Schechet, told jurors they should not believe the woman either and that his client is a “good man” who came to America after surviving an assault in Guatemala.

"He told me I'm untruthful, and I said, no I am not," the victim, now 55, said of the lawyer’s interrogation. "He made me feel like I was a worm crawling on the ground."

"To this day, I would contend he never committed an act that was inappropriate to any of these people making these allegations," Schechet said. He added that his client was prepared to leave the country and return home if the jury were to acquit him of the rape charges.

The Brian Centre was also slapped with a hefty six-figure fine after regulators found it had failed to protect residents from sexual abuse. A spokesperson for its parent company said it had been unaware of the multiple allegations against Gomez until the police investigation began. MIMS

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