An Ohio gym teacher is accused of sexually abusing 28 first-grade girls, PEOPLE confirms.
John Austin Hopkins was charged by a grand jury with 36 counts of gross sexual imposition with 28 first-grade girls, authorities say.
His case began to unfold on March 8, when a concerned father met with the principal at Clearcreek Elementary School in Springboro, Ohio.
“When the parent asked his daughter how her day went, she said it was a great day, because she got to sit on Mr. Hopkins lap,” Scott Marshall, Communications coordinator for Springboro School District tells PEOPLE. “He was concerned by that.”
The gymnasium is in view of security cameras, so school administrators checked the footage and allegedly saw the girl sitting on Hopkins’ lap.
“Within minutes, John Austin Hopkins was removed from the classroom and we turned it over to the Springboro Police Department,” Marshall says. “It was all out in the open. None of the footage showed him being one-on-one with students. It was all out in the open.”
Hopkins was placed on paid, administrative leave on March 8. The school board accepted his resignation March 12.
“It’s shocking, it’s gut wrenching,” Marshall says.
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At a Monday press conference, Warren County Prosecutor, David P. Fornshell said authorities studied security camera footage dating back to December 2018.
In the video, Hopkins was allegedly seen putting his hands up the shirts and skirts of the girls.
“It was apparent within the first day worth of video that this was going to be bigger than, frankly, anything we’ve ever handled,” Fornshell said.
The grand jury was presented with incidences of alleged inappropriate touching of 88 different first grade girls. They decided to indict 36 counts of gross sexual imposition related to 28 different girls.
The kids, Fornshell said, didn’t realize their teacher was doing anything wrong.
“Frankly, they loved him as a teacher because of the amount of affection he was showing them. What these kids didn’t realize is this was completely inappropriate and criminal,” he told reporters. “One of the little girls — he had convinced her they were going to be married when she got older.”
The girls, he said, competed for Hopkins’ attention in class.
“All of the little girls in the class knew this type of conduct was going on,” Fornshell said. “The kids didn’t recognize anything at all going wrong. But when you’re watching it as an adult your stomach starts rolling. Because you’re like, ‘This is not okay at all.’ “
The 36 sexual misconduct charges are all third-degree felonies, which each carry a 5-year maximum prison sentence.
Hopkins defense attorney did not return PEOPLE’s call for comment.
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