A former student of a Wasilla teacher accused of sexually abusing students is urging other people to come forward if they’ve been hurt.

Lukis Nighswonger, 36, pleaded not guilty to five counts of sexual abuse of a minor in a Palmer courtroom on Tuesday.

Wasilla police said during their investigation Nighswonger admitted to “being attracted to kids as long as he could remember.”

Maddy Turnbull, now 17, and her mother, Lorie, were in the courtroom. The family said they filed a report after Nighswonger was arrested last month.

Lorie Turnbull and her daughter Maddy, a former Iditarod Elementary School student who says teacher Lukis Nighswonger sexually abused her. (Heather Hintze/KTVA)

KTVA does not typically name victims of abuse, but Maddy agreed to be interviewed for this story.

Maddy had Nighswonger as a teacher for third and fourth grade. She recalls him being overly affectionate in a way that wasn’t appropriate for a teacher. 

“As someone that young, you don’t think that your favorite person in the world is going to hurt you,” Maddy said.

After news of Nighswonger’s arrest and the several allegations of abuse, it took several days for Maddy to tell her mom she was a victim too.

“At first I didn’t want to talk to her about it because you don’t want to tell your mom these kinds of things,” Maddy said.

She spent a day at school with her guidance counselor and the school resource officer and said they helped her talk about what happened.

“I feel embarrassed because it happened so long ago. It always sat in the back of my mind and bothered me. I thought, ‘It happened so long ago, what’s it going to mean now?,’” Maddy said.

Her mom Lorie said all of her kids had Nighswonger as a teacher; she asked for them to be in his class because he was everyone's favorite. Lorie said she was on the PTA and volunteered in his classroom every other day.

“I don’t even know how to explain it," Lorie said. "I was so mad because this was someone we trusted.”

The Turnbulls said Iditarod Elementary students are a tight-knit group, adding that they know almost all of the victims. Maddy encourages others to speak out if they were victims too.

“What I think is so important is that if something has happened, you tell someone," Maddy said. "Because me, personally, I don’t want him to be out of jail ever.”

Nighswonger will be back in court on Nov. 29. His trial is currently scheduled for mid-December.

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