Investigators: Wasilla teacher admits being attracted to kids
An Iditarod Elementary School teacher accused of inappropriately touching multiple students appeared in court for the first time Thursday afternoon after admitting to investigators he’s “been attracted to kids as long as he can remember.”
A handful of concerned parents showed up to observe the arraignment for 36-year-old Lukis Nighswonger.
After the hearing, one mother said her daughter had been in his class. She was in tears learning about the allegations.
“He was everyone’s favorite, their track coach, their hero,” she said. “Turns out you dropped your kid off every day with a pedophile.”
Another parent who asked not to be identified said he couldn’t fathom the charges against Nighswonger.
“He made such a positive difference in my son’s life. How do we talk to our son? This is so hard and so sad.”
State prosecutor Lindsey Burton asked the judge for a $100,000 bail because Nighswonger presented a risk to the community and indicated he was going to flee.
“I think that’s the only way to make sure that he is kept away from people in the community who are vulnerable to him,” she told the judge.
When asked if he would like to address the bail conditions, Nighswonger said, “Everything the state’s attorney said was true. But I also have been very forthcoming and I have already made myself available a couple of times to investigators and I thought maybe that could be taken into consideration.”
Judge Wolfe ordered a $100,000 plus pre-trial enforcement electronic monitoring if Nighswonger makes bail. He’s also not allowed to have any contact with minors and may only have telephonic contact with his children or a supervised visit if their mother is present.
The Mat-Su School District received a report on Monday that Nighswonger inappropriately touched a student four years ago. Wasilla and Palmer police departments investigated those claims and as a result, he was arrested and charged on Wednesday night.
According to charging documents, the incident occurred at Iditarod Elementary School in Wasilla while he was helping the student with some school work. It started with a backrub and then it escalated to him moving his hand down her pants.
"He indicated he did this multiple times on the same day and [the victim] did not react to what he was doing,” according to charging documents. “He said this occurred 'a while ago' and he had repressed the memory until he was confronted about it today at the School District Office."
Nighswonger estimated the incident happened around three to four years ago and described it as "purely in the moment, loss of control", charging documents read.
Initially, Nighswonger refused to say if something like this happened to any other students but by the end of his interview with the investigator, he confessed there were more victims, charging documents said. He said he was never alone with a student in a classroom.
"He described himself as a 'pedophile'. He was asked what a 'pedophile definition was to him. He described a 'pedophile' as a person who gets gratification from touching children," according to charging documents.
On Wednesday, the victim was interviewed by a child forensics investigator and she said Mr. Nighswonger inappropriately touched her on two separate occasions while she was in his 4th-grade class, four years ago, charging documents said.
According to charging documents, Nighswonger had prior allegations dating to 2008, however, Wasilla police were not informed until four years later. A 9-year-old boy claimed he had been inappropriately touched and witnessed Nighswonger "put his hands up a girl’s blouse and down another boy’s pants."
"He described Mr. Nighswonger as doing a lot of pinching and tickling students," charging documents said.
Due to insufficient evidence at that time, Nighswonger was not charged.
A family friend came forward on Jan. 13 saying she would visit Nighswonger's classroom regularly after school and reported he would ask her personal questions and on two occasions he would rub her knee and inappropriately touched her. That incident happened in 2013, court documents said.
In a statement, Dr. Monica Goyette, the superintendent of Mat-Su Borough School District said:
"It is our number one priority to support any potential victims. In full cooperation with the City of Wasilla Police Department, we are asking that any concerns of harm are delivered directly to law enforcement... the school district is providing resources for parents and guardians to navigate these difficult conversations with their children."
The district is asking parents with concerns contact Investigator Bennet at (907) 352-5418. Additional school psychologists and counselors will be on-hand to talk with anyone affected by the case.
A preliminary hearing is scheduled for Oct. 8.
Heather Hintze and Mary Simton contributed to this story.
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