PERRY, Okla. – A teaching assistant at an Oklahoma elementary school was accused of inappropriately touching at least seven girls at school over the past few months.
On Friday, Perry police arrested 85-year-old Arnold Cowen who police said could face lewd acts with a child charges.
“It`s hard to look at parents and tell them that you know,” Forrest Smith, the assistant chief of police for the Perry Police Department, told KFOR.
Fighting back tears, Smith told NewsChannel 4 it all started with a phone call from a concerned parent. Then the next day police received another call from a second parent, both claiming a teaching assistant at Upper Elementary School inappropriately touched their children.
The accusations didn’t stop there.
“Usually those center around one or two victims and that's a whole lot easier to deal with when you have one or two victims. But when you're pushing 15 victims, that's hard to swallow,” Smith said.
Smith said Cowen confessed to touching at least seven fourth- to-sixth grade girls at school over the past few months. Claiming his memory his foggy, he told officers there are likely more victims.
Authorities met with the victims’ parents, some of them hearing all of this for the first time.
“I was very surprised that I was the first person to tell them. The school had never reached out to them or told them of the allegations that their children had brought to them,” Smith said.
While they won’t comment on that, school officials did release a statement saying the suspect will be permanently banned from the school if the accusations are verified.
"The school district was informed that an adult male volunteer who frequently tutored students had inappropriately touched one or more 5th grade girls during school hours. The allegations described a touching with the girls fully clothed. There was no allegation of any physical assault, physical injury, or any other incidents involving forceful conduct. The volunteer alleged to have engaged in the conduct was sent home and will not return to school until the investigation is complete. If the accusations are verified, he will be permanently banned from the school premises.
The school district is conducting an investigation. The Perry Police Department was notified, and the police department is conducting an investigation. The Department of Human Services (DHS) has been notified, and DHS is conducting an investigation. The safety and well being of our students is always our first concern.
Perry Public Schools carefully considers the background and qualifications of volunteers. In fact, they must pass the same strict background check as teachers. The volunteer allegedly involved here traveled to Oklahoma City for fingerprints and a background check at the Oklahoma State Department of Education.
Every effort is being made by Perry Public Schools to help, encourage, and assist the students involved. We are confident that our campus is safe for all students, and we will keep it that way," the statement read.
Police reached out to the Dearing House Child Advocacy Center, which offers free counseling for the victims and their parents.
"The parents often times don't want to admit it, but I think they need the support even more so than the kids because what the kids need is support from the parents,” Maggi Hutchason, the executive director of Dearing House, said.
“You know, we take our kids to school to be protected and I feel that somewhere down the line someone has failed. And it`s my job to make them answer for that,” Smith said.