NC man faces sexual assault charges

EBENSBURG, Pa. (AP) — A former house parent at a central Pennsylvania Catholic school has been charged with sexually attacking two Chinese international students he supervised.

John Bowman Thornberry, 28, of Mills River, North Carolina, declined comment when reached Tuesday by The Associated Press. He was charged Monday by the Ebensburg police and the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office.

Thornberry has lived in North Carolina since he was removed from his job overseeing Chinese international students at Bishop Carroll High School in February.

That’s when school officials alerted authorities upon learning of the accusations during a meeting with the foreign students.

During the meeting, some students spoke of their treatment by Thornberry, including one who asked school officials, “How can you respect someone who puts their hand down your pants?”

That boy eventually told police Thornberry fondled him after first taking him to a part of the building beyond the view of surveillance cameras. A second boy told authorities he fought off a molestation attempt by Thornberry that made the student feel “disgusting and meaningless.” Officials are trying to locate at least one other boy who also may have been molested by Thornberry since December 2014, four months after the school hired Thornberry, according to the charges.

Attorney general’s spokesman Jeffrey Johnson said authorities have a warrant but have yet to arrest Thornberry. Authorities in North Carolina were expected to serve the arrest warrant this week, after which Thornberry must be extradited to Pennsylvania to face the charges, Johnson said.

Thornberry is charged with institutional sexual assault, corruption of minors and endangering the welfare of children, all third-degree felonies. He’s also charged with indecent assault and attempted indecent assault, both misdemeanors.

The school’s chief executive officer, Jerome Stephens, released a statement saying Thornberry was “suspended and removed from campus” once the allegations came to light Feb. 9.

“The first priority at Bishop Carroll is the safety of every student at all times; and the administration is cooperating fully with the ongoing investigation,” the statement said.

“This is a disturbing case of a trusted school official violating the very students he was obligated to watch over and care for,” Attorney General Kathleen Kane said. “It is unacceptable for anyone to harm a child.”

Kane made headlines in March when she released a grand jury report castigating the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese, which is home to the school, for doing too little to address hundreds of child-sex abuse claims against dozens of clergy.

More than 100 of those claims were made by students who attended another school in the diocese, Bishop McCort, in Johnstown, where a Franciscan friar who has since killed himself was accused of molesting students from 1992 to 2001. The diocese has paid more than $8 million to settle those claims.

Diocesan spokesman Tony DeGol referred comment on the Bishop Carroll allegations to Stephens.

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