BAINBRIDGE ISLAND, Wash. -- Ed Gonda and his family moved to Bainbridge Island upon hearing it was a pastoral "laid back, forgiving" kind of place.
After finding a rental, he and his wife enrolled their daughter in school. As Christians, they found a local church they liked. They made friends with neighbors and island residents.
But eventually, word got out.
Gonda had a criminal past. And not for burglary or drug possession, but for a sex offense.
The news traveled fast, and people who they thought they knew well acted swiftly. His daughter could no longer play with friends down the street, he said. The church pews around them were vacant on Sundays. They more or less stopped going out anywhere on the island.
"We're treated like we're diseased," his wife said.
Having a daughter, Gonda can empathize with islanders. He would never want a pedophile around her, and he has family members who were the victims of sexual abuse.
Gonda didn't go to prison for being a pedophile. In 1995, when he was in his early 30s, he had a sexual relationship with a 15-year-old girl he lived with at the time.
Gonda pleaded guilty to his charges and did about four years in state prison. He participated in and paid more than $10,000 for sex-offender treatment. He has committed no new crimes since he got out of prison about a decade ago, according to a check of his criminal history. As sex offenders go, he is considered a "Level 1" by law enforcement, the level least likely to re-offend. He said that just to be safe, he avoids places where teens close to his victim's age congregate.
"I admit, I was wrong," Gonda said. "But I've changed. Why are people still looking at me for something I did 15 years ago?"
Law enforcement makes a determination of how likely a sex offender is to re-offend and rates them on a scale of 1 to 3.
But the public often fails to see any nuance.
"People look at them in a bucket," said Bainbridge Island Police Commander Sue Shultz. "They say 'Any kind of sex offender is a sex offender, and always will be a sex offender.' "
The registration of sex offenders in Washington state was one of three components of the Community Protection Act of 1990, passed in the wake of two tragic and brutal killings. It's a popular measure with the public, and the Legislature has strengthened and spent more money on the laws surrounding sex offenses. Lawmakers have also bolstered penalties for failing to register as a sex offender.
There is also a national registry for sex offenders.
The subject of debate is who is included in the registries, who is not and how often should they be checked on.
While extremely rare, recent horrifying crimes committed by sex offenders have galvanized lawmakers to act.
Kitsap County Prosecutor Russ Hauge uses the analogy of an airplane crash.
"It doesn't happen very often," he said. "But when it does, it's a tragedy."
Hauge chaired a task force convened by Gov. Chris Gregoire in the wake of the killing of Zina Linnik, a 12-year-old girl abducted and murdered by Terapon Adhahn, a Level 1 sex offender. A result of that task force was the creation of a sex-offender policy board that reports to the governor, and the creation of a pot of grant money awarded to local law enforcement to make face-to-face contact with every sex offender in the state.
"Nobody knows how much of a safety factor it adds," Hauge said. "But a murder of a young girl damages the community in an incalculable way."
Thomas Weaver, a defense attorney who handles sex cases, questions the indiscriminate nature of a sex offender registry. While lower-level sex offenders might not have their pictures in the paper like Level 3 offenders do, they're still on the list, he said.
Weaver also wonders about a slippery slope in registration. For example, why not enact a burglary offender registration to notify the public when such convicts are released, he wonders.
A kidnapping registry was created in the wake of Washington's sex offender registry, he said. Nevada has a registry for convicts of many different crimes. And there have also been calls in some states for a registry of arson offenders, a crime that also often involves an underlying psychological component.
Where to draw the line?
As a sex offender, Ed Gonda can understand why people would be afraid of Level 2 and Level 3 sex offenders. His family's few options of places to live are apartments and houses that accommodate sex offenders. But he doesn't want to go to those places out of fear for his wife and daughter. Other landlords, however, won't rent to him because of his status.
"So where can we live?" he wonders.
While in prison, he changed his name. He still feels blessed to have found a family and for the neighbors on Bainbridge Island that do accept him.
"God gave me a family, a wife and a new start," he said. "I just wish someone would give us a chance."
Josh Farley is a reporter for The Sun in Bremerton, Wash.