Police: Kids Bound, Covered in Roaches, Fed Semen by Teacher

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SOUTH LOS ANGELES (KTLA) — A 61-year-old elementary school teacher is behind bars for allegedly tying children up, putting cockroaches on their faces and possibly feeding them semen.

61-year-old Mark Berndt, a teacher with over 30 years’ experience at Miramonte Elementary School, was arrested at his home in Torrance on Monday after a nearly yearlong investigation.

He has been charged with 23 felony counts of lewd acts on a child, and is being held on $2.3 million bail.

Police say the crimes occurred between 2008 and 2010 at various locations, including both the school and Berndt’s home.

They involved boys and girls between 6 and 10 years old.

Berndt allegedly told the children they would be playing “a game.”

The investigation began when a film processor reported more than 40 photographs of kids in a school classroom, with their eyes blindfolded and mouths covered with tape.

Film processors must report suspected child abuse under California law.

Some of the photos depicted Berndt with his arm around the children, or with his hand over their mouths, according to police.

In addition, some of the photos showed girls with a blue plastic spoon filled with clear/white liquid up to their mouths.

Detectives recovered a blue plastic spoon and an empty container from the trashcan in Berndt’s classroom.

The items tested positive for semen that was matched by DNA testing to Berndt, the sheriff’s department said.

There were also photos of children with large, live Madagascar-type cockroaches on their faces and mouths.

Sheriff’s detectives served a search warrant at Berndt’s home in Torrance, where they found 100 more similar photos.

They also discovered a DVD depicting adult sexual “bondage,” which instigators say mirrored the bondage-type pictures of the children.

An additional 250 photographs were later recovered by Sheriff’s Special Victims Bureau detectives from the film processing store.

Police say there were over 26 children identified in the 390 total photos.

Approximately 10 children have not yet been unidentified.

“I am sickened and horrified by the behavior of Mark Berndt,” LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy said in a statement.

Deasy said he was notified about the investigation on Jan. 7, 2011.

According to Deasy: “Mark Berndt was immediately removed from the school the same day and the Los Angeles Board of Education, at its next meeting, approved his termination.”

The school district is fully cooperating with the ongoing investigation, Deasy said.

So far, more than 80 students and staff members have been interviewed, according to police.

Deasy also said that crisis counseling and support have been provided for more than a year to the known victims and their families.

“We will continue to aggressively pursue each case to determine the truth of the matter, and initiate the appropriate disciplinary measures,” Deasy added.

Authorities are asking for the public’s help identifying possible additional victims.

Special Victims Bureau detectives can be contacted at (877) 710-5273(LASD) or specialvictims@lasd.org.

If you wish to remain anonymous, call “LA Crime Stoppers” by dialing 800-222-TIPS (8477), texting the letters TIPLA plus your tip to CRIMES (274637), or using the website http://lacrimestoppers.org.