The children at Miramonte Elementary School never complained about their third-grade teacher. Not when he blindfolded them,not when he put tape over their mouths or even when he placed live cockroaches on their faces.
He told them it was a game. Then he photographed them,creating images that would eventually lead to his arrest.
Mark Berndt faced arraignment Wednesday on charges that he committed lewd acts on 23 boys and girls,ages 6 to 10,between 2008 and 2010,said Los Angeles County sheriffs spokesman Steve Whitmore.
The investigation began when a film processor found Berndts photos more than a year ago. The school district fired Berndt and police put him under surveillance.
If it wasnt for the film processor,this could still be continuing today, said sheriffs Lt. Carlos Marquez. Berndt was arrested Monday at his home in Torrance and was being held on $2.3 million bail. The film processor had turned over some 40 photographs to authorities.
About 400 photos were found at Berndts home and at the photo lab during subsequent searches. Its not clear how many different children were pictured. At least 10 youngsters in the photos have not yet been identified.
Some photos showed Berndt with his arm around children or his hand over their mouths. Some photos showed children with live bugs the size of hissing cockroaches on their mouths or faces.
Others depicted girls with what appears to be a spoon up to their mouths as if they were going to ingest a clear-white liquid. Children were fed Berndts semen from a spoon or on cookies,Marquez said. Kids reported being fed something distasteful. A blue plastic spoon and container found in the trash in his classroom tested positive for his semen,authorities said.
Police recommended the children in the photos be tested for sexually transmitted diseases. There may be more victims given the length of time that Berndt taught at the school,Marquez said. Authorities could have arrested Berndt on misdemeanour charges when the investigation began but chose to build a stronger felony case,Marquez said. He could get a life sentence if he is convicted.
At first,neither the parents nor the children believed they had been molested,so there wasnt much reaction,according to Whitmore. It was only after the matter of the semen was raised that they became alarmed.
Berndt has no previous arrest record. The childless bachelor lives a few blocks from two parks and an elementary school.
The incidents occurred during school hours but not all the children were his students,Marquez said. The reason some of the kids are not his students,per se,is that during the lunch breaks or recess,hed go out to the playground and entice them back to the classroom, Marquez said. They didnt know they were being violated in that manner, he said. They just thought it was a game.
Berndt was a teaching assistant in the Los Angeles Unified School District in 1976 and 1977 and he began teaching at Miramonte in 1979,according to the Los Angeles Times.
Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent John Deasy said that he was notified of the investigation last January and removed Berndt from the classroom the same day.
While Berndt may be long gone from the school,the incident has left its mark.