MOORESVILLE The investigation surrounding alleged sexual abuse of children by a former Iredell County teacher three decades ago has grown to include at least 20 former students and more than 110 charges, the Iredell sheriffs office says.
John Thomas Patterson, 65, an elementary school teacher during the 1970s and 1980s, initially was arrested two weeks ago and charged with inappropriately touching four male students at Mount Mourne Elementary School during the mid- to late 1980s. At the time, he was charged with 14 counts of taking indecent liberties.
But more witnesses and victims have come forward since that arrest, alleging additional acts dating back to the mid-1970s.
Iredell Sheriff Phillip Redmond said at least 16 additional alleged victims have been identified, and he said 96 more indecent liberties charges were filed Thursday against Patterson. In addition, Redmond said, Patterson has been charged with one count of first-degree sex offense.
Most of the incidents occurred in the classroom, although there are some occasions that the abuse occurred outside the classroom, Redmond said.
Patterson, of Mooresville, was released under $100,000 bond after the first arrest but was jailed Thursday under $350,000 bond. He bonded out later Thursday, a jail official said.
On Friday, Patterson was back at his home, where four unmarked police cars pulled into his driveway at about 2 p.m. He stood in the backyard of the single-story brick house as officers executed a search warrant inside.
A sheriffs deputy said Patterson got cold, and the deputy let him sit in the back seat of a sheriffs department sport utility vehicle.
As he walked to the SUV, an Observer reporter asked Patterson for comment about the charges against him. He looked down and didnt respond. Once in the SUV, he pulled his jacket over his head.
As officers searched the house, a man pulled up in a pickup truck and stood across the street, staring at Pattersons house and the unmarked cars in the driveway.
He was shivering.
Im shivering out of the chill and anger, he said.
The man told the Observer he was 9 years old and in fourth grade at Mount Mourne when the teacher would walk up to your desk, stick his hand between my legs and start messing with you.
Asked how long this went on, he said it went on sporadically for the whole year. I kinda shut it out over the years.
The man, who didnt want to be identified, said his younger brother had also been victimized, but neither knew about the other until the sheriffs office arrested Patterson.
The man, who is in his 40s, said he went to the police after learning of the arrest.
Its a big relief off my chest that its all come out, he said.
Patterson worked for the old Iredell County School system, which later merged with the Statesville Schools, from 1971 to 1987, according to school personnel records. He taught fourth grade at Mount Mourne Elementary from 1978 to 1987, when he resigned.
Iredell-Statesville School officials have been working with the sheriffs office on the investigation. A school system spokesperson didnt immediately return a call from the Observer.
Redmond said Friday that the allegations now involve both male and female students, but the majority of the alleged victims were males, between the ages of 9 and 11.
The allegations are primarily of fondling and inappropriate touching, Redmond said.
He also said that Patterson was a well-liked teacher who befriended many of the families of the children who allegedly were abused.
Pattersons next door neighbor, Troy Bonaventure, said Patterson grew up in the house and lives alone. He described him as just a humble, very nice guy, and said he was shocked when his wife called to tell him the police were taking Patterson away in handcuffs.
Weve been here 13 years, and I know hes big in church, and very meek, a neighbor who would do anything for you, Bonaventure said. Ive never seen anything that would make me have that suspicion of child molestation.
He said Patterson played the organ in a church and would go out of town on church business, but he didnt know which church.
Risha Weidner, who lives nearby, said shes talked with Patterson only once, and that was when he stopped by her house shortly after her family moved into the neighborhood in August. She said he likes to walk the neighborhood.
Hes a neighbor who likes to know whats going on. He was nothing but nice, she said. He said he worked for the church.
Investigators carried bags out of Pattersons house shortly before 6 p.m. and drove away.
Staff researcher Maria David contributed.