(ABC NEWS) -- Former Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno and other top university officials acted with "total disregard" for the children sexually abused by former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky to avoid "bad publicity," the university's internal investigation concluded in a report.
The report was released at the conclusion of the investigation led by former FBI director Louis Freeh, who was hired to find out why officials who knew of child molestation accusations failed to stop Sandusky or report him to police. The college's board of trustees came under fire as well for oversight failures and a culture of discouraging questions and dissent.
The report said that Paterno, along with officials Tim Curley, Gary Schultz, and former president Graham Spanier, "repeatedly concealed critical facts relating to Sandusky's child abuse from the authorities," and it blamed those four men for failing to stop Sandusky and protect other children from his harm.
Read the full Freeh report here.
The four officials showed a "striking lack of empathy" for the victims of Sandusky's abuse and empowered the coach to continue abusing, the report said.
"The most powerful men at Penn State failed to take any steps for 14 years to protect the children who Sandusky victimized. Messrs. Spanier, Schultz, Paterno and Curley never demonstrated, through actions or words, any concern for the safety and well-being of Sandusky's victims until after Sandusky's arrest," the report read.
Emails released in the report show that all of the top officials in question were aware of Sandusky's showering young boys as far back as 1998, and had concerns then that it bordered on sexual abuse and could yield other victims.
In that year, the mother Victim 6 contacted the university police department to report that Sandusky had showered with her son on campus. In response to the police investigation, Schultz notified Spanier and Curley of the incident and wrote in his notes that it was "at best inappropriate, @ worst sexual improprieties." He asked: "Is this the opening of Pandora's box? Other children?"
The investigation, however, did not yield charges, with the university police chief writing in an email that he could "justify that decision because of the lack of clear evidence of a crime." The emails show that Paterno was notified of and involved in the 1998 investigation, and was "anxious to know where it stands."
A year after that investigation, Sandusky retired from coaching at Penn State, a decision that was entirely his own, according to the report. Despite speculation that Paterno had pushed Sandusky out because of the 1998 investigation, the report shows that Paterno actually told Sandusky he could continue coaching as long as Paterno was head coach of Penn State. Sandusky chose to resign instead.
Paterno even worked to get Sandusky a special $168,000 payment and emeritus status at the university, which allowed him full access to all its facilities even though a provost had said that Sandusky's low academic position didn't warrant the perk.
The officials' reactions to the 1998 allegations against Sandusky are mirrored by the reactions to the 2001 report, in which Paterno, Curley, Schultz, and Spanier are informed of that graduate assistant Mike McQueary saw Sandusky in the shower with a young boy on campus. McQueary has said he made it clear to each official that something of a sexual nature was going on in the shower.
Curley, Schultz, and Spanier decided to report Sandusky to the Department of Public Welfare, according to the timeline included in the report. The decision was then reversed, however, after Curley talked it over with Paterno, and proposed dealing with Sandusky in a more "humane" way by telling him to seek counseling. The officials all agreed to follow this approach, but Spanier, the university president, said in an email that he worried about being "vulnerable for not having reported it."
The timeline also sheds light on how the Second Mile, Sandusky's charity for children, dealt with the allegations. Curley informed the Second Mile's leadership of the 2001 incident, according to the report, and the Second Mile considered it a "non-incident" and took no further action. The Second Mile has launched its own investigation into how it handled the Sandusky allegations.
The report was released after eight months of investigation, launched in November by the university's Board of Trustees after the arrest of Sandusky, Curley, and Schultz, and the firing of Paterno and resignation of Spanier.
Sandusky was convicted of 45 counts of child abuse in June and is now in a state prison.
Former athletic director Curley and former vice president for finance Schultz were arrested in connection to the Sandusky case, and charged with not reporting the 2001 incident to the police. They are charged with lying about their knowledge to the Pennsylvania grand jury.
Both men have maintained their innocence and are still months away from trial.
Paterno and former university president Graham Spanier were never charged criminally in the case, but Paterno was fired and Spanier resigned just days after Sandusky's arrest when the Board of Trustees decided they had not done enough to stop Sandusky.
Spanier has said that he was never told about a specific allegation against Sandusky of child sex abuse. Paterno, who died in January, said that he told his supervisors what he knew about a 2001 allegation, and left it up to them to decide what to do.
The investigation, which included 430 interviews and reviews of 3.5 million emails and other documents, included emails from all of the officials showing how much they knew about that incident.
Paterno's family released a statement Wednesday in anticipation of the investigation's findings, saying that Paterno had already acknowledged that he wished he had done more with the allegation against Sandusky.
"To this point, Joe Paterno is the only person who publicly acknowledged that with the benefit of hindsight he wished he had done more. This was an honest and courageous admission that a true leader must assume a measure of responsibility when something goes wrong on his watch," it read. "The sad and frightening fact is Jerry Sandusky was a master deceiver."
Sandusky was convicted in June on 45 counts of child abuse, many of which took place on Penn State's campus.