Parents, this is going to rattle some nerves. A Brandon daycare worker is facing nearly two dozen child pornography charges.
Some parents worry whether he crossed the line with their kids. It’s something investigators are looking into, but they say right now they don’t have evidence he was touching or taking pictures of local kids.
Justin Cross, 25, has had contact with dozens of kids not only at Childcare of Brandon, but also at his previous employer, La Petite Academy in Riverview -- all while Florida Department of Law Enforcement agents say Cross was looking at and sharing child porn from home.
Agents arrested Cross at his Riverview home Tuesday morning. Records show he lives there with his mom.
The Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force got tipped off that Cross was not only looking at kiddie porn, but also allegedly sharing the sexual images in chatrooms and websites.
Childcare of Brandon tells 10News that they did a background check on Cross. So did 10News, and we didn't find any prior arrests.
He’s now been fired.
His previous employer, La Petite Academy in Riverview, says he left about a year ago. There's no indication his arrest involves any of the kids at that school, and the director calls the allegations “deeply disturbing.”
One Brandon mom whose son goes to Childcare of Brandon tells 10News that her 4-year-old son started wetting himself. She fears this may have something to do with it.
“I rushed over here. When I was at work, I got the message. I didn't check until I got off work. I thought like, 'Oh no.' It made me think about my son and the problem that I had with him, that bothers me,” says mother Alrea Hudson.
Law enforcement officials say if parents believe their children were victimized, they should get in contact with them.
“Your children are going to be in contact with him, because he was an employee at the facility. If they think something occurred that was unlawful between him and their children, they should certainly contact us,” says Mike Stephenson, FDLE special agent supervisor.
Agents ask parents to talk with their kids about possible abuse and report any concerns.
Cross is facing 22 charges and will be prosecuted by the State Attorney General's office.
Later Tuesday, Polk County investigators arrested 49-year-old Jose Baez-Ortiz. He’s accused of inappropriately touching a 6-year-old girl at Davenport School of the Arts, where he works as a janitor.
The janitor has been suspended from his job, and the superintendent is asking the school board to fire him.
10News talked with a family psychologist about the best way to talk to your kids to uncover what might be happening at their daycare or school.
Dr. Stacey Scheckner tells 10News there's a fine line between educating kids about abuse and scaring them by asking the wrong questions. She says open the lines of communication by having a conversation when they're young before something bad happens.
“We would want to do it preventatively: ‘Only mommy and daddy are allowed to see your body parts, and these are private areas, and this is in the privacy of our home. If anyone asks you to take your clothes off or show them, then immediately you want to ask for mommy and daddy,’” Scheckner says.
But we've seen similar arrests too many times: child porn allegations, a trusted staff member accused of touching a 6-year-old’s thigh under her skirt.
When this happens, Scheckner says it's important to not ask kids a direct question about a specific person.
“They have defense mechanisms in their brain, and when you hear any kind of question of fear and a parent asking a certain question and driving them to a certain answer, kids want to be a people pleaser, and feel like maybe that should have happened to them. I tell parents, when we are cutting up carrots at the kitchen table, go ‘Oh by the way, has anyone ever wanted to bathe you besides mommy and daddy?’ You kind of want to have this indirect approach.
"I would have this kind of ongoing discussion with them year-after-year, so they feel this is a natural thing, as opposed to oh my gosh something traumatic happened," Scheckner says.
So, we asked Scheckner who are these people? What goes through their minds looking at kiddie porn or preying on children?
“What usually is happening is something was done to them. They're trying to work it out, and they haven't had the therapy to resolve whatever traumatic sexual issues has happened to them. Instead of figuring it out in a healthy manner, they continue to perpetuate usually what was done to them,” says Scheckner.
Detectives want parents to reach out with any information that may be relevant to their investigations.
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