LEBANON, Ohio — A teacher charged with sexually abusing 28 first-grade girls and touching dozens more manipulated them so much they "would compete for his attention." He even told one girl he would marry her when she got older, according to Warren County Prosecutor David Fornshell.
Video recorded inside the gymnasium where 25-year-old Austin Hopkins taught P.E. shows Hopkins touching 88 girls between December 2018 and March 2019, Fornshell said Monday.
“They all took place inside the gymnasium area … we have video of all of them," Fornshell said as he announced Hopkins' indictment on 36 counts of gross sexual imposition.
Hopkins worked for the Springboro Community City Schools at Clearcreek Elementary and Springboro Intermediate at the time of the incidents, Fornshell said.
Fornshell said the girls loved Hopkins as a teacher because of the amount of affection he showed them, but Hopkins was "grooming" them.
“A lot of these little girls would compete for his attention during the class … One of these little girls he had convinced that they were going to get married when they were older,” Fornshell said.
Fornshell said security video from the Clearcreek Elementary gym shows Hopkins "placing many of the girls on his lap, straddling him in what I would describe as a sexual manner." It also shows Hopkins "putting his hands up their shirts and skirts," the prosecutor said.
“The kids may not notice anything at all going wrong, but when you’re watching it as an adult, your stomach starts rolling," Fornshell said. "Because you’re like, 'This is not OK.'”
Prosecutors submitted the video to a grand jury, and jurors determined which interactions would be considered criminal contact, Fornshell said.
“The question came down to, was this for the purpose of sexual gratification,” Fornshell said.
The case involves more victims than any other case in Warren County, he added.
Fornshell said the penalty for one count of gross sexual imposition can be up to five years in prison.
Police took Hopkins into custody Monday morning. He is scheduled to be arraigned at 2 p.m. Thursday.
Parents of the victims were notified Monday morning, Fornshell said.
“I’m sure it’s running the entire gambit of emotions as far as anger frustration … but at the end of the day, this all on Mr. Hopkins," said the prosecutor. "This is his fault and his fault alone.”
Fornshell said the investigation started after a parent contacted the school district, which immediately contacted the police.
In a statement Monday afternoon, Springboro Community City Schools representative Scott Marshall said the district had suspended Hopkins March 8 within minutes of learning about the allegations. He resigned four days later; the Board of Education convened a special meeting March 13 to approve the resignation.
The district also submitted a complaint to the Ohio Department of Education’s Office of Professional Misconduct, which could result in Hopkins losing his teaching license, and sent letters and voice calls to parents throughout the investigation into Hopkins’ behavior.
"For many families in our district, these are difficult times," Marshall wrote in the statement. "Communication outreach and support is important. The dialogue between our district parents and administration is paramount, as is the safety of every student in our district."
He encouraged parents struggling with the situation to attend a support group at the Child Advocacy Center of Warren County, which can be reached at 513-695-3100.
Lexi Kidwell, a sixth grader at Clearcreek last school year, said she had Hopkins as a substitute teacher.
“I just think, 'I had this guy. I know who he is,'” Kidwell said.
"They didn’t know what was happening," she added, referring to the first graders. "They didn’t know that something was wrong.”
Kidwell said allegations like that make it difficult for students to trust teachers.
“Or trust anyone that much," she said, "because there could be a different side to them that could be bad. And you just didn’t know about it.”