Hunter Nunes-Wales only ventures into Swanton, Vermont, out of necessity.
But on this sunny July day, the soon-to-be Castleton University football player has to pick up an old friend. Peering over his left shoulder as the road funnels him into the center of town, Nunes-Wales spots an apartment building being demolished.
It was his childhood home.
Nunes-Wales returns later that evening, by which time the structure has been reduced to mangled steel, bricks and evidence of dust-covered books and toys.
Scouring the heap, Nunes-Wales plucks out a coloring book that belonged to him. He points to a movie poster, once slapped on his bedroom wall — it was too far out of reach to grab. A broken toy catches his eye.
“That was my sister’s,” he said, holding it up.
Crushed under the weight of a building left in ruin, those personal items were visible to anyone who strolled by. But 1 Canada St. has a secret history too, invisible to anyone unaware of the tumult it once housed.
Those who know, as Nunes-Wales does, could never forget.
The screams. The pain. The fear. Inside those apartment walls, Nunes-Wales endured years of physical abuse from his biological father.
“I probably got beat 300-400 times,” Nunes-Wales says. “I got some good beatings, I’m not going to lie.”
Caught off guard by the sudden destruction of a place he once called home, Nunes-Wales doesn’t pause or show emotion as he details the remnants of his past. The moment, though, might turn cathartic for the 18-year-old.
“It’s a good thing because I don’t need to see it anymore when I drive by and then it won’t bring back bad memories or anything,” Nunes-Wales says.
Today, life is better.
This weekend, the former multisport star at Missisquoi (Vt.) Valley Union High School will play in the 65th Shrine Maple Sugar Bowl, the annual gridiron showdown at Castleton University between Vermont and New Hampshire’s senior all-stars.
And not long after, he will trace the same path south for the fall to begin his college football career with the Spartans.
‘I had had enough’
Once, Nunes-Wales wore long-sleeves to school to cover up the bruises “that were everywhere,” he said. When a black eye couldn’t be hidden, Nunes-Wales lied about it, saying he fell off his bike while riding with his brothers.
“The school believed me,” he said.
In another incident, Nunes-Wales said he suffered two broken ribs from repeated fist blows. Sometimes the abuse involved household objects within reach — a wooden spoon was just one example he recalled. But, he said, the blows Shawn Tardy inflicted were “usually with his hands.”
The pummeling from his biological father could come without warning. Say the wrong thing at dinner? Goofing off with a sibling? Playing basketball outside and coming inside a minute late?
“It could be anything,” Nunes-Wales said.
And then there were the inevitable beatdowns Nunes-Wales knew were coming after school.
“There were some days that were fine, and on those days he was either working or sleeping. But if we woke him up in the morning, that was trouble,” Nunes-Wales said. “We knew we were going to get it when we got home from school. It was a guaranteed signature waiting to happen.”
The abuse went on for nearly 10 years, Nunes-Wales said. His biological mother was no longer in his life; there was no obvious place to go.
He reached a breaking point as his freshman year at Missisquoi came to a close.
“I had had enough. I couldn’t take it anymore,” Nunes-Wales said. “I talked to my older brother about it, and he wasn’t too keen about it at the time, but I told him I was going to say something either way.”
Brothers placed into a new home
Nunes-Wales, then 15, reported a March 2015 altercation with Tardy to school officials and, later, the Swanton Police Department, police and court records show. His biological father had hit him across the back with an open palm, so there would be no bruises, targeting an old football injury, records state.
Judge Alison Arms signed off on two domestic assault charges against Tardy, one in connection with violence against Hunter in March 2015 and another in connection with the beating of his older son, Blaine, that January.
Tardy’s prior criminal record included a conviction for domestic assault, court records show.
The Vermont Department for Children and Families reached out to Johenry Nunes and David Wales for placement, and Hunter and Blaine soon moved into the couple’s Isle La Motte home.
In ensuing weeks, the judge agreed to dismiss the abuse charges against Tardy, per a proposal made by the deputy state’s attorney in charge of the case. Tardy’s attorney said he could not comment on the case without his client’s permission.
Blaine stayed with Nunes and Wales for two years. Home became a 30-acre property on Lake Champlain, 18 miles west and a world away from Canada Street.
Hunter never left.
“You are going to make me tear up, but I always tell him how amazing he is,” David Wales said. “I say that I’m proud of him all the time, and that’s because I am.”