MOBILE, Ala. – Police contend Hankins Middle School teacher Jeremiah Hunter kept a framed picture of a former 16-year-old female student on his bedside table.
They said 39-year-old’s phone screensaver is also an image of the girl.
The revelations are among a hoard of “disturbing evidence” collected at Hunter’s home that also included cell phones, computers, and other items that illustrates a “level of obsession” with his alleged teen victim, WTVM reports.
Mobile County Sheriff’s Lt. Paul Burch told the media the parents of girl first filed a complaint against Hunter alleging inappropriate contact in August 2014, when the child was a 14-year-old student in the teacher’s eighth grade class. Officers alerted the school system, which failed to take action, and the parents filed a second complaint.
“According to deputies there were more than 18,000 texts between the student and Hunter. Sheriff’s officials say Hunter was told to cease all contact with the student, but did not,” according to the news site. “We’re told he even changed phones and contacted the teen through social media apps. Authorities say Hunter would also show up unannounced at the student’s place of employment.”
Burch told WKRG “a lot of (the texting) was well after school hours.”
Aside from his teaching position, Hunter also served as a cheerleading coach at several schools in town and would often give students a ride home, or take them to his house. Hunter was also the middle school’s “Teacher of the Year” for the 2013-14 school year, according to WPMI.
Burch said the emotional stress Hunter allegedly put his student victim through likely could have been prevented.
“I know that the student has been going to counseling through resources at the Child Advocacy Center and there is serve emotional distress that I think could’ve been headed off months, if not years, ago,” he said. “I think that falls partly on the school system.”
Superintendent Martha Peek claims there was nothing the district could have done to prevent Hunter from preying on his student because it lacked “evidence.” Hunter was not put on administrative leave until after his arrest for second-degree stalking on Thursday.
“It really surprises me that the sheriff’s office says that, because we’ve been working with law enforcement through the period of time that there’s been complaints,” Peek told WTVM. “There’s been interaction from the family with the school system that we followed up on immediately and we will continue to do that and will continue to screen all social media that we have control over.”
Police contend Hunter became aware of the police investigation at one point, but couldn’t stop himself from continuing to obsess over his former student.
“Once the teacher was aware, the latter part of last year, that the parents were complaining, he begin doing things like changing phones to hide the contact, using different apps to make it seem like something else or that makes conversations pop up and go away,” Burch told WKRG.
“Then, December of this past year, he was told again by law enforcement at the school to stop any contact whatsoever with the student and that included having other students contact the victim on his behalf. And, he continued.”
Hunter’s victim is now 16-year-old and a student at the local high school.
The teacher faces up to six months in jail if convicted of stalking, though police said there could be more victims, and possibly more charges, based on evidence collected at Hunter’s home this week.