The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department has revealed that a former teacher tied up and gagged 23 children, put cockroaches in their mouths and posed in photos with them – all in his classroom.
Mark Berndt, 61, has been at the Miramonte Elementary School, which serves poor, mainly Hispanic children, for more than 30 years. He was arrested and charged earlier this week, with his bail set to $2.3 million. The district attorney's office said Berndt has been charged with committing lewd acts with 23 boys and girls ages 6 to 10, reports Fox News.
A film processor handed over about 40 photographs to the authorities that showed blindfolded children in a classroom with their mouths taped shut — after which an investigation began. Some of the photos were explicitly graphic with some of the implements depicted in them later being tested positive for semen.
The department also revealed that some of the photos even showed cockroaches on the children's mouths and faces.
Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy said:
"I am sickened and horrified by the behavior of Mark Berndt."
The investigation later moved to Berndt's home, where the sheriff's department were said to have found more than 100 similar photographs depicting children. They also found a DVD depicting adult sexual bondage activity "which mirrored the bondage-type photos of the children."
However, the department said:
"The adults in the bondage video were not identified and the images in that video are not a crime."
Berndt has been charged with committing lewd acts upon 23 children between 2008 and 2010. While the incidents occurred during school hours, not all the children were Berndt's students.
Sheriff's Lt. Carlos Marquez of the Special Victims Bureau explained that none of the alleged victims told anybody about the incidents.
"They didn't know they were being violated in that manner. They just thought it was a game," Marquez said.
After the police informed the school district, Berndt was immediately fired.
However, many parents of children at the school have been questioning why they weren't told of the teacher allegations sooner, reports the Los Angeles Times has reported
Kimberly Kirklin, 32, said she quizzed each of her six children who attend Miramonte immediately after the shocking news broke. While she was secure that her children had been unharmed, she was surprised to have heard of the events at the school.
Heidy Morales, who has two children at the school, said she hadn't heard anything about the accusations until hearing of it in the news.
"This is my first time hearing of that," she said. "It's scary. I don't know what to say."
She believes that the school should have informed parents immediately after they learned about the photos.
"I would have taken my daughter away from this school."