High School Special Needs Teacher Faces 408 Child Porn Charges
A Florida high school teacher, soccer coach and church youth leader is facing 408 counts of child p3rnography possession, according to authorities.
Shawn Fitzgerald, 46, was allegedly busted with hundreds of illegal images of children involved in s3xual activity on his phone, Polk County Sheriff Gray Judd said Saturday.
The images show infants as young as 10 months old and children being sexually abused by adults and engaging in acts with other kids, police say.
It does not appear that Fitzgerald produced the images or harmed any children personally, Judd said, but officials say he is likely to face additional charges.
Police arrested Fitzgerald Friday after being tipped off by the National Center on Missing and Exploited Children.
Fitzgerald teaches special needs students at Lakeland High School outside of Tampa, and has coached the boy’s soccer team there since 2014. He is also the youth director at First United Methodist Church in Bartow.
“We are shocked and disgusted by these charges. As educators, we are entrusted with the well-being of our young people every day. It is our sacred duty to set the highest moral example in our schools and our communities,” said Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd in a statement to local television station WFLA.
“We are cooperating fully with the investigation to ensure justice is served, and we are in the process of terminating this employee.”
Fitzgerald’s church said, “We are saddened to learn of the arrest of Shawn Fitzgerald, youth director at First UMC, Bartow. Upon notification of his arrest, he was placed on unpaid administrative leave. We have no knowledge of any inappropriate conduct by Mr. Fitzgerald with anyone associated with First UMC.
“We have a strict Child and Youth Protection Policy that we continue to enforce. It is our understanding that the police investigation is on-going. Our prayers are will with all involved in this situation.”
Fitzgerald is being held in the Polk County Jail on $2 million bail.
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