Parents in the Lindbergh School District say they want answers about the district’s policy on sexual misconduct by teachers, coaches, and staff.
The #MeToo movement and recent media attention on an alleged sexual relationship in the 1990s between a coach and student is bringing a new focus on the concern. Parents want assurances that students can feel safe to tell someone on the school staff about inappropriate contact by a teacher or coach.
Family and friends of Emilie Morris say she went out for track and cross country at the urging of Lindbergh High School coach Jim Wilder in the 1990s. But Emilie’s mother, Joan Morris, says it wasn’t until years later that Emilie revealed she had a sexual relationship with wilder when she was 16.
“I think we’re trying to key in on the MeToo movement in a way that keeps it relevant in St. Louis, specifically to Emilie,” Joan Morris said.
Relevant because the investigation ended when Emilie died.
“It’s because she died. I don’t think that she still can’t get the justice that she wanted,” Joan said.
Wilder was charged with six counts of statutory sodomy, but the prosecutor says he did not enter a plea because the investigation ended when Emilie died.
“The only one that suffered in this whole thing was Emilie and she deserved justice,” said Andrea Morris, Emilie’s sister.
Emilie was found dead with her head in a trash can at her apartment in Ballwin. She was 35. It’s believed a plastic bag inside the container suffocated her. Investigators labeled the death suspicious. Prosecutors said they needed Emilie’s testimony to go forward.
“In Emilie’s case, we don’t have her here anymore, so we are her voice,” said Christine Lieber, Emilie’s friend.
Emilie was an honor student and star athlete on the Lindbergh High School track team but her family said she was living with a troubling secret and as an adult, she had a downward spiral into depression and alcoholism. Her family said her counselor told her she should confront wilder about what happened when she was 16.
Before that confrontation, Emilie told her story to St. Louis County police. They asked her to wear a wire and record the conversation when she met with her former coach in 2013.
The Morris family said they were given the audio recording by police after Emilie died. The family provided that recording to Fox 2/KPLR 11.
An unidentified male voice is heard saying, “We did something that wasn’t right according to our laws these days right, but you know I’m not a creeper. I didn’t creep.”
And from a separate piece of audio, “If you go to 90 percent of the world, 15’s legal. So if I go over and boff a 15-year-old in Spain, I can do it all day in the streets whatever and nothing would happen. You touch a 16-year-old and you go to jail here.”
Parents in the Lindbergh School District say they hope they can get reassurances from the district that students can feel safe to tell a staff member about inappropriate contact with a coach or teacher.
“Now that this story is out there is a lot of interest from parents, particularly parent groups from Lindbergh police, officers, attorneys,” Lieber said.
Emilie didn’t tell school official about the relationship at the time. She brought her allegations to the police years later.
“When we received additional evidence from the police in 2015, we worked with our attorneys, our board, and administration, to terminate Jim Wilder’s contract as quickly as possible,” said Beth Johnston, a spokesperson for the Lindbergh School District.
The Lindbergh district says its top priority is the safety of students. A spokesperson says each staff member undergoes training every year to recognize sexual misconduct by students or staff
“We do take steps to make sure students they can always go to an adult and this is a safe place for students to report to adult,” Johnston said. “At the high school, we have an anonymous tip line where students can send in concerns or anything that they feel needs to be investigated.”
In the meantime, Jim Wilder has not responded to our repeated requests for comment. The state says he still has a teacher’s license but is not currently employed in any district.
The next board meeting of the Lindbergh School District is scheduled for May 8. Several parents are expected to question the board about its policies on sexual misconduct.
Emilie’s family is asking that anyone who may be afraid to speak up about sexual misconduct to contact CrimeStoppers where they can speak anonymously.