MORGANTON — Authorities say photos or videos of young Burke County girls found by European police during a pornography-related raid led them to an elementary school teacher who faces at least nine felony counts.
Michael Andrew Alexander, 54, who taught for 12 years in the Burke County Schools, was arrested Wednesday in connection with Interpol-led Operation Filipo, according to the Burke County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Steve Whisenant told reporters Thursday that agents found images of young girls wearing “Hildebran” T-shirts during an arrest earlier this month in Barcelona, Spain. Agents contacted the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, and they alerted authorities in the United States.
The Morganton News-Herald says Alexander, who is married with two children, was released from his job as third-grade teacher at Hildebran Elementary School on Tuesday. Alexander had taught at Glen Alpine Elementary for several years before that.
Alexander made his initial court appearance Thursday in Morganton, flanked by several deputies. A probable cause hearing was set for July 3, and Alexander was jailed under $1 million bond. Officials in Burke County are not saying where Alexander is being held.
He is charged with one count of first-degree sex offense with a child, three counts of taking indecent liberties with a child, and five counts of second-degree exploitation of a minor.
Whisenant said Burke County authorities believe the alleged sexual offenses took place over a period from 2001 until this year.
He said Interpol launched Operation Filipo in an effort to deal with international pornography. As part of that operation, agents arrested Javier Alvarez Varela in Barcelona. That, according to Burke County authorities, is where the photos of the young girls with the Hildebran T-shirts surfaced.
The State Bureau of Investigation then entered the case and interviewed Alexander on Tuesday, Whisenant said.
“Our hearts are just broken right now,” Burke County Schools Superintendent Larry Putnam told WSOC-TV on Thursday.
Investigators say they are working to determine the identities of the girls in the photos and videos.
The sheriff’s office is asking anyone with information in the case to call 828-438-5500.
The Morganton News-Herald and WSOC-TV contributed