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Another child says Wasilla elementary teacher sexually assaulted him

Iditarod Elementary School, photographed Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

PALMER — Another victim has emerged in the sex-abuse case against a Wasilla elementary school teacher arrested late last month after he admitted to inappropriately touching a student.

Three children separately told authorities that 35-year-old Iditarod Elementary teacher Lukis Nighswonger touched their genitals over nearly a decade: a girl when she was a fourth-grader in 2014; a boy who was about 9 in 2008; and an older girl who said she came to visit Nighswonger in 2013-2014.

Now a fourth child is included in the felony sex-abuse case against the former teacher based on their description of "hand to genital" contact that occurred in 2015-2016, according to a Palmer grand jury indictment handed up late last week. Few additional details were immediately available.

Nighswonger, who was fired from his job, remains jailed at Mat-Su Pretrial Facility on $100,000 bail. A judge approved his release to house arrest on an ankle monitor, but Nighswonger said he didn't expect to make bail.

He's being held separately from the jail population, his lawyer said Tuesday. That's standard practice for child sex-abuse suspects.

Before his late September arrest, Nighswonger told investigators he was a pedophile who "has been attracted to kids for as long as he can remember," according to a sworn affidavit filed with the original charges by Wasilla police investigator Dan Bennett.

Asked if his client has mentioned any additional victims, Wasilla attorney Neal Ainsworth Jr. said he couldn't discuss the details of the case. He expects to get evidence compiled by prosecutors within 20 days of last Thursday's indictment.

Lukis Nighswonger appears in court telephonically for his arraignment on charges of sexual abuse of a minor Thursday, Sept. 27, 2018 in Palmer. (Loren Holmes / ADN)

Six years passed between the first report of potential sex abuse occurring in the popular teacher's classroom and criminal charges being filed.

Nighswonger first got the attention of Wasilla police in 2012, when the boy reported the 2008 abuse. But that investigation didn't result in charges, so the school district wasn't notified.

The Mat-Su Borough School District in January made a second report about Nighswonger, to the Office of Children's Services rather than police, according to district spokeswoman Jillian Morrissey. A girl said she was inappropriately touched by the teacher, who was a family friend, charging documents show.

OCS is the official reporting agency for the district, Morrissey said. She couldn't immediately say what resulted, but no criminal charges were filed.

She also couldn't discuss any employee action taken in response to the girl's report.

It wasn't until another girl reported inappropriate touching last month and Nighswonger admitted to that charge that he was arrested by police.

Asked why the district reported to OCS in January and police last month, Morrissey said it was "the level of the allegation."

The district is exploring the possibility of reporting possible abuse by teachers to both OCS and police, she said.

The district last week mailed about 325 letters to families asking if their children might be potential sex-abuse victims. The letter went to families with children who had been in Nighswonger's classroom since he started teaching at Iditarod in 2006.

"I recognize it is a very difficult conversation to ask your child about sexual abuse," states the letter from Mat-Su Superintendent Monica Goyette.

A district psychologist or counselor can help if needed, schools officials say.

The letter also includes resources to help parents talk to their children about sexual abuse.

Iditarod Principal Brian Porcello also sent a message to Iditarod families last week.

"Recent days have been difficult for many of our students, and the resiliency they have demonstrated is tremendous," Porcello wrote.

The district is asking people who think their children may have been victims of Nighswonger's to call Wasilla police at 907-352-5418.

Police are getting calls from parents reporting possible abuse but also calling with concerns, Wasilla Police Department spokeswoman Amanda Graham said Tuesday.

Police have not forwarded any additional charges at this point, Graham said.

The fourth victim was identified by the Palmer District Attorney's Office during the grand jury process, she said.

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