HILDEBRAN At Hildebran Elementary School in Burke County, students called him Mr. A.
The FBI and N.C. agents are calling third-grade teacher Michael Alexander of Morganton something different: a child pornographer with ties to a global sex investigation.
Alexander, 54, was arrested earlier this week after agents with Interpol, the French-based international police organization, found photos of young girls wearing Hildebran T-shirts during an anti-pornography investigation called Operation Filipo.
Suddenly, the unsavory news of a teacher who students found nerdy but cool brought an unwanted glare to Hildebran, population 2,023, with the town slogan: We brag a little its our town.
People are just shocked and disappointed that someone like that would be involved in such an outrageous thing, said Jennie Cook, a Hildebran Town Council member. If its true, its a disgrace that any human being would do something like that, especially to children.
The photos surfaced in Spain after Interpol agents arrested Javier Alvarez Varela in Barcelona. They alerted U.S. authorities, and on Wednesday state agents interviewed Alexander. He was arrested by Burke County Sheriffs detectives that day and has been removed from his teaching job.
Alexanders alleged activities, Burke County authorities said, could have gone on since 2001 and reach beyond child pornography.
One arrest warrant charged Alexander, a father of two young daughters, with having sex with a girl under 13. Other warrants allege he duplicated videos of young girls engaged in sexual activity with each other and adult men.
On Friday, Alexander was in jail under a $1 million bond, charged with one count of first-degree sex offense with a child; three counts of taking indecent liberties with a child; and five counts of second-degree exploitation of a minor, according to a Burke County Sheriffs Department news release. A probable cause hearing is set for July 3.
The case is the talk of Burke County.
Everywhere Cook went Friday, she heard people talking about Alexander, and shaking their heads. Shes concerned others knew about the alleged crimes and didnt tell police.
That kind of thing dont go on for that long without someone knowing about it, Cook said. If there is someone, and they didnt speak up, theyre just as guilty. And I dont mean telling the principal I mean the police.
The moment Wendy Curtis opened her Chubbys café in downtown Hildebran, her customers started coming in and talking about the case.
No one believes something like that could go on here, Curtis said. It just reflects poorly on everybody. You put your trust in teachers, and you expect them to teach your children not harm them.
12 years in Burke schools
Little has been released about Alexander, except that he taught in Burke County schools for about 12 years, first at Glen Alpine Elementary and the past seven years at Hildebran Elementary.
He grew up in Newland in Avery County and records show hes also lived in Catawba, Watauga and Jackson counties though its not clear whether he taught anywhere else.
Burke County school officials say Alexander underwent the required background checks before he was hired, and nothing was found.
The sheriffs department said he was a drama teacher. But Kayla Dillingham, a rising senior at East Burke High, said Mr. A was her fifth-grade science teacher seven years ago at Hildebran Elementary.
She described him as a tough teacher, often yelling unnecessarily at students. He was nerdy in a science way, but cool because he let us do interesting projects.
Thats why everyone called him Mr. A.
His students were always doing amazing classroom projects, like building robots. Dillinghams class built bottle rockets and launched them in the school bus parking lot.
He was a good teacher, she said. I was shocked when I heard his name.
One woman eating lunch at Chubbys said her grandson had Alexander in fifth grade at Hildebran. He and several other boys didnt like him, said the woman, who asked not to be named.
One day, the grandson and a friend argued at recess. Alexander, she said, decided to settle the argument in a kangaroo court that let classmates choose their punishment. That angered the boys mother and she complained to the principal.
Neighbors in Morganton described the Alexanders as a normal family that grew flowers and took family walks through the neighborhood.
None of the neighbors wanted to be identified, but many said they were concerned about Alexanders daughters.
A house painter working near the Alexanders said he saw Michael Alexander grilling out on Tuesday.
The next day he was arrested. Staff researcher Maria David contributed to this article.