Parents and teachers raised concerns about an elementary school volunteer and youth choir director accused of recording "vile sexual acts" between children on school grounds, but the principal took no action, claiming the teachers lacked proof, according to a lawsuit filed by the guardian of a victim.
The family that alerted police about possible sex abuse at Judge Sylvania Woods Elementary School last week is suing the school district and the suspect.
"This is a painful situation for the county to think a person that we entrusted would deliver everlasting harm to our young people, our babies," Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker said at a news conference Wednesday evening.
The accused teacher's aide, 22-year-old Deonte Carraway, had children openly perform sexual acts in various parts of the school where the abuse should have been obvious, like the school auditorium and bathrooms, according to the lawsuit.
The civil complaint claims a 9-year-old boy was told by Carraway that he was part of a "club" in order to persuade him to participate. The boy was pulled out of his fourth-grade class by Carraway on multiple occasions, the suit says, and Carraway directed a fifth-grade girl to perform a sexual act on him while Carraway recorded the act with his cellphone and shared it with students using the Kik app.
In January, the 9-year-old's uncle learned Carraway was using Kik to communicate with the boy and other students, according to the lawsuit. The uncle saw inappropriate pictures of students on the boy's phone.
The complaint also says the uncle and the guardian who filed the suit told Principal Michelle Williams about the abuse Thursday and were told to return to the school in Glenarden, Maryland, for a meeting the next day.
They called police, instead, and Carraway was arrested Friday.
Williams was placed on leave Wednesday morning, Prince George's County Public Schools confirmed. PGCPS CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell said that was done out of an "abundance of caution."
"When people say things to us, we don't necessarily have to wait until the entire answer is out," he said. "We can take proactive steps."
If anyone at the school had concerns about Carraway and failed to step forward, they could be criminally charged, Prince George's County State's Attorney Angela Alsobrooks said.
"We have a very sacred obligation to the children of this community to protect them, to educate them, to do everything that we can to make sure that they have lives that are productive, and these kids in this case did not receive that protection," Alsobrooks said at Wednesday's news conference.
Police said in an update Thursday they have identified 12 victims, including seven directly abused by Carraway. The lawsuit says there could be up to 30 victims. Authorities are investigating whether there are more victims.
A task force of several law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, has interviewed 18 children and more than two dozen families, Prince George's County interim Police Chief Hank Stawinski said.
Since the allegations surfaced, the school district has provided counseling and psychological support for the victims and their families upon request and reviewed policies on abuse with teachers, Maxwell. A meeting with parents to outline additional measures that will be taken is scheduled for Thursday evening.
A PGCPS board meeting scheduled for Thursday evening was canceled over fears not enough members were able to attend in order to vote on potential policy changes.
The district also created a safety hotline for parents and students to report incidents. The hotline, 301-618-8342, opens Thursday morning.
Several letters to parents were posted Wednesday on the school's website, including one that tells parents how they can work to protect their child from abuse.
Carraway is charged with 10 counts of child pornography charges, one count of sex abuse of a minor and one count of second-degree sex offense. More charges are coming, Stawinski said.
Police, who are being assisted by the FBI, said they found about 40 videos showing victims ages 9-13 performing sex acts with each other or alone. Carraway can be seen in one video molesting a child, according to the documents. In other videos, he can be heard directing the victims.
Carraway, of Glenarden, has admitted being involved in producing child pornography, police said.
Detectives said videos also were created at the Glenarden Municipal Center, the Theresa Banks Memorial Aquatic Center and in private homes.
Carraway also was the director of the Glenarden Voices of Youth Choir at the municipal center, police said. He was a paid assistant at the school during the 2014-15 school year.
Carraway is being held on $1 million bond.
The investigation could take months, police said.
Anyone aware of other possible victims should call Prince George's County police at 301-772-4930, or the FBI at 1-800-CALL-FBI.