LOS ANGELES — Mark Berndt, a veteran teacher at Miramonte Elementary School in South Los Angeles, was arrested Monday and charged with molesting 23 children, The Los Angeles Times reported.
Berndt, 61, was fired in March, and was being held Tuesday on $2.3 million bail for allegedly tying up children, placing giant cockroaches on their faces, and possibly feeding them his semen from a spoon.
"I am sickened and horrified by the behavior of Mark Berndt," John Deasy, the Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent, said in a statement. "I hope this man spends the rest of his life in prison."
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The charges involve 23 boys and girls ages 6 to 10 and occurred between 2008 and 2010, according to the felony complaint obtained by the Times.
Berndt, who has been teaching for over three decades, is unmarried, without children, and has no previous criminal record, according to the Associated Press.
Investigators were tipped off to Berdt's crimes by a photo processor who printed photos of the blindfolded children. Authorities then found 390 photos in Berndt's home that allegedly pictured students tied up. Some photos showed large Madagascar cockroaches crawling on the students inside the school setting, authorities said. Some girls were allegedly photographed with a blue spoon holding a white substance near their mouths.
"Early in the investigation, special victims bureau detectives recovered a blue plastic spoon and an empty container from the trash within the suspect’s classroom," Captain Mike Parker of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department told reporters. "The recovered items tested positive for semen."
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Officials also found A DVD depicting adult sexual bondage activity "which mirrored the bondage-type photos of the children" during the search, the department told the AP.
So far, 10 children in the photos recovered have yet to be identified. More than 80 children and staff have been interviewed by authorities, according to the Times.
The incidents occurred during school hours, though not all the students involved were Berndt's, the AP reported. None of the alleged victims told anyone about the incidents, Sheriff's Lt. Carlos Marquez of the Special Victims Bureau said.
"They didn't know they were being violated in that manner. They just thought it was a game," Marquez told the AP.