A high school teacher, soccer coach, and church youth leader has been arrested in Florida on 408 counts of child pornography possession.
The New York Post reported that Polk County Sheriff Gray Judd has confirmed that Shawn Fitzgerald, 46, was caught with hundreds of illegal images of children involved in sexual activity on his phone. He added that the photos show infants as young as 10 months old and children being sexually abused by adults and engaging in acts with other kids.
Judd went on to say that while it does not appear that Fitzgerald produced the images or personally harmed children, it is likely that he will be hit with more charges in the future.
Fitzgerald is employed as a special needs teacher at Lakeland High School outside of Tampa, and he has coached the boy’s soccer team there since 2014.
“We are shocked and disgusted by these charges. As educators, we are entrusted with the well-being of our young people every day. It is our sacred duty to set the highest moral example in our schools and our communities,” said Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd in a statement to WFLA. “We are cooperating fully with the investigation to ensure justice is served, and we are in the process of terminating this employee.”
Fitzgerald is also the youth director at First United Methodist Church in Bartow.
“We are saddened to learn of the arrest of Shawn Fitzgerald, youth director at First UMC, Bartow. Upon notification of his arrest, he was placed on unpaid administrative leave. We have no knowledge of any inappropriate conduct by Mr. Fitzgerald with anyone associated with First UMC,” the church said in a statement. “We have a strict Child and Youth Protection Policy that we continue to enforce. It is our understanding that the police investigation is on-going. Our prayers are will with all involved in this situation.”
At the time of this writing, Fitzgerald is being held at Polk County Jail on $2 million bail.
“An arrest like this shakes the entire community,” Judd said. “A man entrusted with the education and guidance of so many children, working closely with them, and betraying that trust in such a heinous way. Sadly, people who possess child pornography are out there, all over the world. But making these kinds of arrests are not rare in Polk County, due to the diligent work of the PCSO Computer Crimes Unit.”
This piece originally appeared in UpliftingToday.com and is used by permission.
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