KNBC-TV’s Patrick Healy reports By msnbc.com staff and news services
KNBC-TV’s Patrick Healy reports.
LOS ANGELES — There was never any outward indication that anything was wrong in Mark Berndt’s classroom at Miramonte Elementary School in south Los Angeles. School officials and law enforcement authorities say they never received any complaints about the third-grade teacher, who is accused of blindfolding students, putting tape on their mouths and taking photos of them with live cockroaches or a spoon full of semen.
The photographs, brought to the attention of authorities last January by a film processor, eventually led to Berndt’s arrest on Monday on charges that he committed lewd acts on 23 boys and girls, ages 6 to 10, between 2008 and 2010.
“If it wasn’t for the film processor, this could still be continuing today,” sheriff’s Lt. Carlos Marquez told the Associated Press.
Students are escorted to a waiting bus as they leave Miramonte Elementary school after classes Tuesday.
Five more children have contacted sheriff’s investigators since Berndt’s arrest, which could lead to additional charges, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.
Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy told msnbc.com on Tuesday that there was nothing in Berndt’s 30-year record with the school district to indicate a problem. “Not so much as a single complaint,” he said.
“I am disgusted beyond belief,” Deasy said. “I’m a dad as well as a superintendent and it’s horrifying.”
Some parents picking up their students at the school on Tuesday complained that school officials should have notified them when the photos were discovered last year. Berndt was fired immediately after the investigation began, and placed under surveillance, but parents didn’t learn why until this week.
“My concern is why, if the principal knew this in advance, why didn’t he inform us?” Gloria Polanco, the mother of a second- and a third-grader, said to the Associated Press. “How long has he been doing this?”
Deborah Harmon, whose 7-year-old granddaughter goes to the elementary, was also upset about the length of time it took school administrators to notify parents of the allegations.
“It’s a sense of violation and betrayal because you think that your children are safe when you send them to school but they’re not safe,” Harmon told NBCLosAngeles.com.
The photographs uncovered reveal disturbing images. Some allegedly show Berndt with his arm around the children or with his hand over their mouths, according to a statement by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. In addition, authorities say the images depict girls with a blue plastic spoon filled with a substance, later determined to be semen. There were also photos of children with large, live Madagascar-type cockroaches on their faces and mouths.
Early in the investigation, Special Victims Bureau detectives say they recovered a blue plastic spoon and an empty container from the trash in Bernd’t classroom. The recovered items tested positive for semen, authorities said, and the suspect’s DNA matched the DNA profile found on the spoon and container.
“We ended up finding out through DNA that the white substance was bodily fluids from our suspect,” Marquez told NBCLosAngeles.com.
A search warrant served by detectives on Berndt’s home also led to the discovery of more than 100 similar photographs depicting children, authorities aid. Also found was a DVD depicting adult sexual “bondage” activity. The adults in that DVD are not identified, according to detectives.
Investigators are still working to identify 10 of the child victims in the 390 photos uncovered.
Authorities are recommending the children be tested for sexually transmitted diseases, the Associated Press reported.
The Associated Press contribued to this story.