A 21-year-old Lakeland gymnastics coach is under arrest after law enforcement says he had sex with one of his students, a teenage girl who admitted the activity to her mother.
Justin Henry, of 1924 High Glen Court South, Lakeland, faces a charge of lewd and lascivious battery from the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office. He has been released on $7,500 bond.
The Elite World Gymnastics Center in Lakeland, where he worked, is home to a couple hundred students, some as young as 3 years old.
10 News talked to the mother of the teenager, who said she found Henry hiding in her daughter's closet about 2 a.m. Wednesday in Brandon. The girl claimed the sex was consensual.
The mother didn't want to talk on camera, or be identified, but said her daughter has been a gymnast since the age of 7, and started training with Henry in June. The family would drive an hour and a half round-trip to Elite World. The mother said she never noticed any signs of misconduct and believes her daughter doesn't understand the severity of what happened.
The gym's manager, Andrew Muzzarelli, says the news was a punch to the gut.
"Yeah it really is. This is a guy we trusted and took in, and for him to stab us in the back and do this to us, it hurts a lot," Muzzarelli said.
Henry's record includes charges from Polk County from April 19, where Henry interfered with a child custody case. Documents show he picked up three 14-year-old girls, allowed them to drink alcohol in his car and was caught by an officer about 2 a.m. in Clearwater Beach.
Another parent, who wanted to be identified only as Heather, says she doesn't blame Elite World.
"I have a 13-year-old girl myself and she was devastated. I don't blame the gym one bit," Heather said.
The gym's manager said background checks are done every two years, and since the prior incidents happened just months ago, it did not appear in the review.
Muzzarelli says he'll be meeting with parents at the facility tomorrow, and discuss how background checks will be re-evaluated so incidents like this never happen again.
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