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Question of the Day
LOS ANGELES — The children at Miramonte Elementary School never complained about their third-grade teacher. Not, authorities said, when he blindfolded them, not when he put tape over their mouths or even placed live cockroaches on their faces.
He told them it was a game and then photographed them, creating images that would eventually lead to his arrest, investigators said of Mark Berndt, who is scheduled to be arraignment Wednesday on charges that he committed lewd acts on 23 boys and girls, ages 6 to 10, between 2008 and 2010. He has hired a lawyer and has made no statements to authorities, said Los Angeles County sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore.
“If it wasn’t for the film processor, this could still be continuing today,” said sheriff’s Lt. Carlos Marquez.
Berndt was arrested Monday at his home in Torrance and was being held on $2.3 million bail.
“My concern is why, if the principal knew this in advance, why didn’t he inform us?” said Gloria Polanco, the mother of a second- and a third-grader. “How long has he been doing this?”
The probe began after the film processor, who is required by state law to report suspicions of child abuse and molestation, turned over some 40 photographs to authorities.
About 400 photos were found at Berndt’s home and at the photo lab during subsequent searches. It’s not clear how many different children were pictured. At least 10 youngsters in the photos have not yet been identified.
Some photos showed Berndt with his arm around children or his hand over their mouths. Some photos showed children with live bugs the size of hissing cockroaches on their mouths or faces.
Others depicted girls with what appears to be a spoon up to their mouths as if they were going to ingest a clear-white liquid. Children were fedBerndt’s semen from a spoon or on cookies, Marquez said.
Kids reported being fed something distasteful. A blue plastic spoon and container found in the trash in his classroom tested positive for his semen, authorities said.
At first, neither the parents nor the children believed they had been molested, so there wasn’t much reaction, according to Whitmore. It was only after the matter of the semen was raised that they became alarmed.
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